Main themes in Bitter Rice

Documentary Style

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The film opens with rice workers at the Vercelli railway station as they leave for the fields. The story is introduced by a radio speaker who is doing his journalistic service on the event. This artifice serves to reinforce the idea of a film linked to real events. The speaker’s voice-over will also return to the end of the movie as if the journalistic service was closing.

Faithful to the dictated neorealist De Santis, however, fails to not contaminate his film with that American style that he feels so attached … lover of Gangster Movie and westerns, De Santis presents us a radio journalist who seems to come out just from a film Made in the USA


Gangster Movie Style


Even the cops trying to capture Walter at the train station recall, even if somewhat ridiculously, the American Gangster Movie cops.
They do not remember at all the typical Italian police officers, not in the type of clothing or even in the poses.
The adoption of the Gangster Movie style is not only due to the passion that De Santis had for these genres of film but it is mainly due to the fact that they were a very successful film genre in those years in Italy.
For this reason, De Santis copies the style with the aim of transforming a Neorealistic film into a Crime Movie. Despite the criticisms received for this choice, it is undeniable that his decision was a success.



Post-war reconstruction

De Santis chooses to make a film in which the theme of war no longer appears .. indeed the film, already from the first scenes, shows the end of the conflict and the beginning of the Reconstruction.
In this light, we need to read the scenes where we see the soldiers who leave the farms that had become their barracks to make room instead for the rice factories that arrive for the rice harvest.

Throughout the film, we can perceive this idea that De Santis carries forward with regards to the commitment and the work necessary to restart the country. In fact, the Mondine  are workers who leave their homes and their families in the month of May to collect the rice.

Using a metaphor we can say that this scene shows how the bullets have been replaced by rice grains.   It’s a very delicate job that requires thin hands and fingers, says the speaker, so are only women who can do this job … the women then become the heroes of this film replacing the typical male figure of the hero.




De Santis uses this film to talk about the danger of cultural contamination. He sees advancing a modern culture brought by American soldiers along with Liberation and fears that young people, fascinated by this new lifestyle, may abandon the socialist ideals that have characterized the development of the working class since the early 1900s.
Surely Silvana personifies this contamination as the necklace represents the falsity of modern values. But there is a scene in which this anti-Americanism is clearly declared: Marco and Silvana dream of going far … for Marco the future is in South America, not in North America … South America is the land of opportunities in his opinion …. to Silvana’s reply that points out that in North America everything is electric, Marco answers “even the chair is electric in North America!”

These are the years in which the opposition between East and West blocks is played, and De Santis is one of those who, following his communist ideal, fears that the Italy of the future can become an American satellite instead of embracing the cause communism offered by the Soviet bloc. His fears are actually all justified because that’s how it was.



The Necklace


The necklace represents the object around which the whole story takes place. If we thought simply of a Crime Story, then the necklace would be nothing more than the result of a robbery, an object that everyone (apart from Marco) wants to have possession.
In reality, the necklace symbolizes luxury, well-being, Easy Life, a shortcut to change the life. Being stolen it also represents the temptation to abandon the honest life for material well-being.
But we must also consider the fact that this necklace is especially desired by Silvana who personifies the effects of American cultural colonization.
We must also consider the fact that the necklace is actually false.
In this way we arrive at the true message linked to the necklace: this object represents the falsity of the values brought by the new colonizers

the syllogism is, therefore, the following

necklace = American style of life
necklace = false
American style of life = false

The necklace will lead to Silvana’s death, which at the last moment will understand the mistake she made.
Her workmates will give her that richness she was looking for so much in that false jewel: one at a time giving her last goodbye to their partner by pouring on her body a hand full of rice …. which represents the real wealth obtained with hard work.




The false values conveyed by the necklace are opposed to the true values that come from the lifestyle characterized by commitment and hard work, by the sense of belonging, by responsibility towards others, by solidarity among comrades.

If the stolen necklace causes selfishness and isolation, honest work instead conveys solidarity and union. In the film, we see how the mondine fight together for a noble cause: justice and fairness for all, whether it be the regular or assumed with a union contract, or irregular that, however, they also need to work.
The workers take care of each other, and fight together against the common enemy that, of course, could only be the capitalist and exploitative landowner.
In reality, this last figure is only hinted at, since De Santis’s goal is not to shift attention to class struggles but to focus on the importance of sharing what he considers to be the only true values worthy of to be followed: work, equality, honesty, solidarity.