1962, Italy, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Bernardo Bertolucci's debut feature narrates, from multiple angles, the aftermath of the death of a prostitute on the rundown outskirts of Rome. The debt to Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is obvious - as it is in more or less any film that employs this structure - but the film, with a script by Bertolucci, Sergio Citti and Pier Paolo Pasolini, transcends this limitation with its sense of place and time, that is, the slums of Rome in the early 1960's. The post-war building boom is apparent in the background, but the marginalised characters who populate the film lead lives little changed, at least on the economic level, since the 1930's; there's an added poignancy now in our knowledge of a city (and country) on the verge of enormous upheaval.
The film is essentially a police procedural shot through with shades of neo realism, filmed in often rundown locations with many non-professionals. It's remarkably assured for a 21-year-old director, who is already displaying considerable technical competence (there's a beautiful shot when the prostitute and a john descend a set of steps, while the sequences that show the woman dressing are staged with great care). By contrast, the acting is sometimes unconvincing, and the post-dubbing may reveal the limitations of the budget. It's not hard to hear, in the events recounted, an echo of Pasolini's fascination with the lower depths; indeed, there's a chill in the vague similarities with his own death.