Girl with a Suitcase (1961, Valerio Zurlini)

Girl with a Suitcase plays a little like The Nights of Cabiria. Watching Suitcase, one can’t help but feel like the filmmakers were quite familiar with Cabiria. Cabiria, of course, is from a certain period of Fellini and Suitcase feels a little like that Fellini, only the diet version. The film does have a lot of nice things about it–Valerio Zurlini is a fantastic director and he has wonderful composition in this film. Also, for a film with lots of loud music, it’s really quiet. Zurlini lets his actors act and doesn’t help them much in the technical department, which means the actors have to be really good… and, for the most part, they are. Claudia Cardinale is fine, but her character is something of an intentional enigma, so she’s really not the best standard for the film–she’s also not the protagonist. The protagonist is the sixteen year old boy who’s got the crush on her, which is where Girl with a Suitcase differs from other depressing Italian films (it’s like Nights of Cabiria with kids, maybe).

The problem with this story–the boy-about-to-be-a-man and the older woman with secrets he loves–is the lack of a successful conclusion to the story. There are probably films with this story made twice a year from every country in the world (at least one with a good-sized film industry). Girl with a Suitcase goes a different route for most of the film though, not giving the kid anything to do but spend time with Cardinale. Oh sure, he’s got the absent family, but it’s not an issue for a couple reasons. First, because he’s too busy with Cardinale. Second, because the damn thing switches protagonists for the third act, concentrating on her. Those diet Cabiria moments come about because of the switch, but they also serve to make Cardinale a sympathetic character. Only to crap on her in a boring way.

Somehow, the film’s two hours and boring but really not long enough. It stops without ending. The kid, played Jacques Perrin, is okay. Sometimes he does good, sometimes he doesn’t. It’s like Zurlini wasn’t giving him enough direction in some scenes. Another problem with the inevitable conclusion is the age difference. While Perrin is supposed to be sixteen, he was actually twenty and Cardinale was twenty-three. They look close in age and it really affects the reading of certain scenes.

I’ve only seen one other Zurlini film, The Desert of the Tartars, and I was expecting a lot more from Suitcase. The first hour is pretty good though and, overall, it’s not wasted two hours (especially given the amazing sound design).

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