Rice Girls

Matteo Bellizzi

Italy 2002.

Bellizzi is not afraid to create a nostalgic slant by using fictional devices to tell the story of the rice workers. He reunites a group of now elderly women who once worked their fingers to the bone in the rice paddies of Northern Italy. Intercutting scenes from the Italian film Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice, 1949) by Guiseppe de Santis, the director parallels film history and fiction. Some of the former rice workers were hired as extras for the film that in their opinion had little in common with real life.

In a staged scene the women leave the village for the very rice fields they worked in fifty years ago. They walk through the streets singing, fitted out with the kind of broad-brimmed hats they used to wear back then. In the old days they went by train as we see in archive footage intercut with the staged scenes of the present, but in the film they go by bus. The fabricated leaving scene works well, both as a document and as a cinematic device that adds emotion and nostalgia to the story. The ladies arrive at the farm that is now abandoned and – surprise! – some of the men who worked at the farm are there, too. The old trick works: memories are stirred.

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