DOWN AND DIRTY -- West End Circle.
The other side of "Tree of the Wooden Clogs" is Ettore Scola's "Down & Dirty," which certainly is.
Both are Italian films about life among the dirt-poor. They take place in different centuries and different parts of the country, but the two views of humanity are so widely different that it's hard to imagine that the people in them belong to the same civilization, or perhaps that people so idealized in the one, and so vilified in the other, belong to humanity at all.
In "Wooden Clogs," which is about 19th-century peasants in Lombardy, everyone is utterly good, docile. self-sacrificing, home-loving, child-worshiping and respectful of education and authority. The film has great visual beauty, focusing on the dignity of faces, the coziness of hovels and the magnificence of the landscape.
In "Down & Dirty," which is about 20th-century scavengers living in a suburban hillside slum, everyone is utterly ruthless, selfish crude, violent, greedy and especially contemptuous of the very young and the very old. The film is shot to emphasize the grotesqueness of the bodies and the squalor of the surroundings.
Each has, for example, a scene of an animal being prepared for food. In the pretty picture it's a pig being slaughtered, which may not be a naturally attractive sight but is shown as an accepted part of farm life and a cooperative project in which the community works together. In the ugly movie, blood drips menacingly and a vicious-looking matriarch wields her knife as the extended family gathers to chortle over the idea of murdering the father.
There is not one kind impulse among this family of more than two dozen close relatives. The grandmother, when she can tear her attention away from the television set, is as enthusiastic for her son's murder as anyone. Hair-pulling fights go on so regularly that people don't bother to look up. Sex is performed like a bathroom function -- we get to watch both -- between any two people handy-by, regardless of age or relationship. All of those involved are contemptuous of one another, the men getting from sex only a joyless physical relief and the women tolerating it from inertia.
Money is the only thing that can put a gleam in anyone's eye. The grandmother gets some from pension, which is the only reason her descendants pull her out a burning house, and the father has some through insurance for his missing eye; and everyone cherishes hopes of stealing the money. Otherwise, those best off are those in one form of prostitution or another.
Who is to say whether this is a more realistic picture of life among the lower classes than "Wooden Clogs" -- if, indeed, either can make a claim to realism? But, certainly, idealized life is pleasanter to watch. CAPTION: Picture, NINO MANFREDI IN ETTORE SCOLA'S "DOWN & DIRTY."