A couple of initial observations:
Il Boom Economico e il Bagno Nero
There has been a tendency among Italian critics, when not dismissing Zurlini's body of work, to frame it in the context of its aesthetic qualities alone. If nothing else, La Ragazza con la Valigia
is proof that his work does in fact belong; that it deserves to be considered not just in a material context but also a historical one. In this case, the subject is the Italian economic "miracle" of the fifties and early sixties, which not only influenced the film industry but also the content of its output. Suddenly, social values changed: it became not about survival but about how to make a quick buck, often aggressively and with little regard for the law, as seen in films like Dino Risi's Il Sorpasso
and Vittorio De Sica's Il Boom
. Life for many, from each end of the class spectrum, became one lived in the fast lane; between the highway, top down with the wind blowing through one's hair, and the beach - two locations that are a feature of this period in Italian cinema, and act as bookends here. In the words of Jameson, there became a certain nostalgia for the present, with tradition being dismissed in favour of fashion and consumerism - something that Zurlini attempts to illustrate here by contrasting, at times jarringly, classical music with the pop songs of the time. There are also the symbols of consumerism, such as the iconic Coca Cola logo, but also general household conveniences like the record player, iron and telephone (or, publicly, the jukebox and swinging chair); at one point, Claudia Cardinale's character comments, wide-eyed, on her young companion's black ceramic bath: "I didn't know Italy had these"
, she says. As Gian Piero Brunetta has pointed out, it was often strong female characters who "paid the highest price"
in films from this period - Antonio Pietrangeli's La Parmigiana
and La Conoscevo Bene
, to give two more examples - and that is certainly the case here, given that the majority of the male characters treat Cadinale's Aida like nothing more than a piece of meat. Yet, the narrative is ultimately cyclical, in that she is just as keen to exploit the young man who falls in love with her.
La Coppia Impossibile e la Porta Chiusa
So yes, La Ragazza con la Valigia
is certainly topical, but I like that it is rooted in something more traditional: the story of the "impossible couple", like Romeo and Juliet, who are bound to be apart because of their respective backgrounds. It is a cross-class relationship, something that Zurlini makes abundantly clear, but then these are no star-crossed lovers in that his feelings are clearly unrequited - or, at least, not initially reciprocated. There is also a prominent age gap, as well as a stark difference in sexual innocence and purity (his is intact, hers is not) - she mentions at one point that she has a son, but we hear nothing more of him. There was a similar central relationship in Zurlini's preceding Estate Violenta
, but with less of an age gap. On reflection, La Ragazza con la Valigia
reminds me a lot more of Jerzy Skolimowski's later Deep End
, which features many of the aspects listed previously. Ultimately, we get the impression that the older female character is very much aware of the effect she is having on her younger male counterpart, even if she says otherwise. She is flattered by the attention, and appreciates that it is a lot less threatening than most of the attention she usually receives, and in the end takes it for granted. Once again, eventually becoming the abuser that exploits and then dumps her at the beginning of the film. Another thing I noticed about Cardinale's Aida character is that, while seeming to throw herself headlong into bad situations, she is actually quite defensive. This is perhaps best illustrated in a recurring exchange, in which she is disturbed in her apartment by a knock at the door, and calls out for the person to enter despite the door being locked. To me, this is Zurlini showing that his female protagonist is very conscious of the image she portrays in public, and how that differs with who she is when by herself. Her fortune will not be attained by crafty or underhand means, as with the hustlers of Italian cinema during this period, but by how she conducts herself.