The Wide Blue Road
dir. Pontecorvo
Fri March 29
Guild Theater

Gotta pay the bills. Gotta feed the kids. Even if I gotta blow up hundreds of innocent fish to do it.

That's the dilemma faced by the flawed protagonist of The Wide Blue Road, the 1957 debut feature of Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo. Our antihero (played by French screen legend Yves Montand), saddled with the watery moniker of Squalcio, lives in a fishing village on an island off the Italian coast. While his compadres play by the rules and fish with nets, eking out a meager subsistence, Squalcio flaunts the rules, using dynamite to kayo the hapless critters from his boat "La Speranza" ("Hope"), and sending his two young sons out to scoop up their corpses.

Meanwhile, Squalcio's boyhood pal, Salvatore, emerges as the leader of the ethical fishermen. To complicate matters, Salvatore's son has romantic designs on Squalcio's voluptuous 16-year-old daughter, Diana, played by starlet Federica Ranchi. The melodrama runs hot and heavy, and the musical score heaves and swells almost as much as the top half of Ranchi's peasant dresses.

But there's also a deeper political point to be made here. Pontecorvo, a committed Communist known for his leftist agitprop of later years (The Battle of Algiers, Burn!) smuggles his message into the film. The fishermen suffer, you see, because there's only one refrigeration plant on the island, and the capitalist bastard who runs it won't cut them a decent deal. Salvatore, the movie's conscience (you can tell by his graying temples and beret), attempts to organize a co-op among the workers, in order to set up their own cold storage and control the means of production. Sound familiar, students?

Director Jonathan Demme, who specialized in offbeat films before The Silence of the Lambs went to his head, saw Pontecorvo's film back in 1999 and spearheaded its restoration and resurrection. The color photography is intermittently spectacular, but at other times you might wonder where they get off calling this a "restored" version. But fancy cinematography be damned; it's the friction between the soapy storyline and the social justice sloganeering that makes The Wide Blue Road an interesting find.