World Melodrama: Nobody’s Children, 1950
“It’s needlessly cruel.”
Watching Nobody’s Children is something like watching four people drive a car to the edge of a cliff, get out, and push with all their might, dragging themselves and their vehicle over the edge, while proclaiming at the top of their lungs all the while that there was no way to avoid their cursed fate. In other words, it’s a film about the ways that we’re deeply complicit in perpetuating own doom, whether that doom be erotic, familial, political, or some hellish combo of them all, and the ways that we totally deny any responsibility for the shitstorm. It is also a wild, lurid, maddening mess of expressionist melodrama from Rafaello Matarazzo, a director whose recurrent runaway box office success in the heady days of postwar Italy infuriated the cinematic left. They need not have worried so: Catholic and conservative as these films aim to be, they succeed only in making evident just how ugly, arbitrary, idiotic, and very funny the structures of law, church, and family truly are. A plot summary of this tangled web’s machinations is beyond the point, but let’s just say that we get sabotage plots, scheming mothers, giant explosions, heaving chests (male and female), surprisingly innovative formal techniques, and, at the film’s center, a cross-class romance – between an aristocrat mine owner and the poor daughter of one of his workers – so cringe worthy that even a nearby German Shepard covers his eyes with his paws to hide the sight of their heavy petting. You’ll surely do the same, but you’ll also peek, and you’ll probably laugh so hard at this lachrymose, overwound disaster as to crack a rib or two. Be prepared.
[For those in California, this Wednesday, 7 PM, Santa Cruz. For those elsewhere, check out the Eclipse boxset of Matarazzo melos.]