The Valerio Zurlini Box Set

The Valerio Zurlini Box Set (1959)
No Shame Films
Cast: Eleonora Rossi Drago, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Claudia Cardinale, Jacques Perrin
Extras: Introductions, Interviews, Still Galleries, Collectible Booklet, Restoration, Trailer

Italy has produced some of the finest directors in cinema, from De Sica and Rossellini to Fellini and Visconti. One name that sadly is rarely mentioned with the same level of distinction (if at all) is Valerio Zurlini. Born in Bologna, Italy in 1926, Zurlini created a profitable, if small, oeuvre that spanned two decades, from the mid 1950s to the 1970s. Avoiding the grittiness of the neorealists and the extravagance that characterized Fellini's later films, Zurlini infused his work with a simplicity that is powerfully effective yet perhaps also responsible for his relative obscurity today.

Almost 25 years after Zurlini's death, two of his early films are now available in restored editions from NoShame Films. The Valerio Zurlini Box Set contains "Violent Summer" (1959) and "Girl with a Suitcase" (1961), his second and third titles, respectively. While not so much an actual box set as a typical 2-disc release, this collection is no less welcome and finally brings this forgotten director the attention he so richly deserves.

Disc 1 of this set contains "Violent Summer," starring Eleonora Rossi Drago and Jean-Louis Trintignant as a pair of doomed lovers in 1943 Italy, during the fall of the Fascist regime. Rossi Drago plays Roberta, a Navy officer's widow, and Trintignant is Carlo, the pleasure-seeking son of a high-ranking Fascist leader. Brought together by extraordinary circumstances, the couple garners bitter criticism for their considerable age difference as they struggle through the political upheaval of war-torn Italy. Though it occasionally lapses into melodrama, "Violent Summer" is a stark, beautifully made love story that showcases two magnificent lead performances.

Presented in its original fullframe aspect ratio, the film looks great with a clear image that boasts excellent contrast and deep blacks. There is some fine grain throughout, and a few shots are slightly riddled with flecks, but the overall quality is still impressive, fully capturing the masterful cinematography by Tino Santoni, who also worked on the second film in the set.

Audio comes to us in a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack that, for all intents and purposes, sounds very good and is free of distortion. Available only in the original Italian, the dialogue is considerably clear, and the action-oriented scenes have an aggressiveness that appropriately conveys the urgency of the situation. Optional English subtitles are also available.

Bonus features on Disc 1 include a slew of interviews of various lengths with filmmakers who either worked with or knew Zurlini personally. Florestano Vancini, assistant director on "Violent Summer," grants the longest interview, running 35 minutes. At 6 minutes, actress Eleonora Giorgi's interview is the shortest. The other interviewees are lyricist Riccardo Razzaglia and director Giuliano Montaldo. Although the interviews are very personal and offer deep insight into Zurlini's life and career, they are also somewhat dry and have a tendency to ramble. It's difficult to make it all the way through them without becoming distracted, though there are certainly good points to each one.

After this, viewers will enjoy a trailer and a brief poster and still gallery.

On this collection's second disc is the marvelous "Girl with a Suitcase," starring that ravishing Italian beauty, Claudia Cardinale. Here, she stars as Aida, a nightclub singer who is jilted by her lover (Corrado Pani) and follows him to his home in Parma. She ends up falling for his teenaged brother, Lorenzo (Jacques Perrin), who offers her the love and support that she has never received, but who also lacks the maturity to engage in a serious relationship with her. Once again, Zurlini explores the societal taboos of a romance between a young man and an older woman, but "Girl with a Suitcase" is a far cry from the politically themed "Violent Summer." This film is definitely a prize pick, though I suppose any movie in which the angelic faces of Cardinale and Perrin are allowed to light up the screen is worth watching.

The print for "Girl with a Suitcase" is nearly pristine, with only some minor grain and a slight softness present in most scenes. NoShame Films has released it in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that does justice to Zurlini's vision. No excessive specs are visible, and image clarity is striking.

Soundtracks are available in Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian and English dubbed tracks. The original Italian sounds excellent, without a hint of distortion or hiss. The English dub sounds slightly muffled in comparison with the Italian, though I always encourage viewers to watch movies in their original languages anyway. Optional English and French subtitles are provided, as well as English Narrative subtitles that translate only the Italian spoken onscreen during the English dub track.

As with the first disc, this one is loaded with the same type of dry, talking-head interviews. First up is assistant director Piero Schivazappa, in a 20-minute interview, followed by screenwriter Piero De Bernardi, producer Marlo Gallo, and Bruno Torri, president of the SNCCI, an Italian film critics guild, each of whom provide 17 minutes worth of discussion.

We then get a 3-minute comparison between an older DVD edition of "Girl with a Suitcase" and the new restoration. The first DVD offered the film solely in a cropped, pan-and-scan version with a severely blurred image and English dub. The work that NoShame Films put into their release is in clear evidence and simply demands your attention. Both movies in the set have been digitally remastered in high definition from their original 35 millimeter negatives, and I have few doubts that they have ever looked better in any home viewing format.

Once again, a still and poster gallery caps off the disc.

In addition to the lengthy interview segments, each film is accompanied by a brief video introduction by its assistant director. Both clocking in at under a minute, these introductions reveal very little about anything, but are a nice touch nonetheless.

For good measure, a collectible booklet is included as an insert, featuring liner notes and biographies for Zurlini and several of the principal cast members. Most of this was written by Richard Harland Smith, staff writer for "Video Watchdog" magazine, who provides an informative and entertaining read.

Fans of Italian cinema have great reason to celebrate this brand new collection, as NoShame Films has uncovered a pair of true gems from a master who deserves higher esteem. Valerio Zurlini left his mark on the Italian film industry and provided an important stepping stone for his youthful stars, most of whom were not yet famous when he cast them. Through their utter simplicity and bittersweet tenderness, these films achieve a poeticism that is at once beguiling and commanding. Cinephiles everywhere are strongly urged to seek out The Valerio Zurlini Box Set, a unique diamond in the rough among DVD releases.