(director: Vittorio De Sica; screenwriters: story by Rodolfo Sonego/Cesare Zavattini; cinematographer: Ennio Guarnieri; editor: Franco Arcalli; music: Manuel de Sica; cast: Florinda Bolkan (Clara), Renato Salvatori (Husband), Daniel Quenaud (Luigi), Jose Maria Prada (Dr. Ciranni), Teresa Gimpera (Gina), Adriana Asti(Scanziani); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Marina Cicogna/Athur Cohn; Home Vision Entertainment; 1973-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

“This was De Sica’s penultimate film and his last film released in America.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Italian filmmaker Vittorio De Sica (“The Bicycle Thief”/”Umberto D”/”Miracle in Milan”), the guiding force behind neo-realism, helms this humanistic family drama/romance that has him return to his roots in making a small personal film about real folks and their problems with poverty. This was De Sica’s penultimate film and his last film released in America. It’s a feminist pic about a woman who lives a life Thoreau would call one of “quiet desperation.” It’s based on the story by Rodolfo Sonego and is written by Cesare Zavattini.

Depressed and exhausted Milanese factory worker, Clara (Florinda Bolkan), lives in a dumpy apartment in the slums of Turin that is filled with noisy domestic disputes. The martyr-like Clara supports her unpleasant family, that includes her disabled husband (Renato Salvatori)-who has a broken leg from a motorcycle accident, their three small children, her idler brother-in-law and her senile mother-in-law. When Clara comes down with a lung disease, she’s sent courtesy of Italy’s socialized National Health Service to a TB sanatorium in the Italian Alps. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as she’s happy there and learns to live again with some interesting cultured folks and regains a positive self-image because she’s accepted by these upper-crusts. There’s even promise of romance with another patient (Daniel Quenaud), a sensitive young professional who asks her to run away with him. But when she’s released from the sanatorium and returns to her empty life, it stings more than even before. How she will handle it, is not shown.

It’s based on Apollinaire’s epigram that ‘sickness is the vacation for the poor.’

Bolkan’s fine spirited performance as a victim of society, keeps things appealing and keeps the populist De Sica’s outdated communist beliefs on the back-burner in favor of more humanistic responses. The movie is surprisingly upbeat, considering its grim subject-matter. It lays on us rich observations of life differences between the haves and the have-nots, and gives us a sympathetic heroine worth caring about. But it’s only a minor work in the talented De Sica’s opus, as it lacks the depth and emotional impact of his great early films.

Florinda Bolkan and Daniel Quenaud in Una breve vacanza (1973)