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Open Letter to the Evening News

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Open Letter to the Evening News (1970)

A group of friends and colleagues, all of whom belong to Italy's political left, get together for a little ping-pong, a lot of sangria, and ultimately, some fierce ideological debate. A phone call is received and it's announced to minglers and debaters both that a major newspaper has requested the group share its opinion regarding the war in Vietnam. Believing that their radical and dissentious views on the subject won't actually be published, a letter is written in which the leftists volunteer to fight alongside the Vietnamese against U.S. military forces. When, much to their surprise, the letter is published in another newspaper, those who drafted the letter are confronted with their own political beliefs, and must determine if the powerful political reverberations of their words, in reality, are nothing more than a hollowness of intentions.

Director Francesco Maselli's film, Open Letter to the Evening News, reflects not only the political climate in Italy during the time in which it was made, but also holds up a mirror to the beliefs and actions of the extreme political left, which Maselli was, and continues to be, aligned with. The film is both brave and uncompromising in its scrutiny of political beliefs (in this case Italian Communist ideology) and it's rare that an individual, let alone a director making a film, is willing to question and analyze his or her own ideals with such an unwavering gaze. The film is indeed provocative, so much so that when it was released in Italy it created a genuine stir that, for a time, appeared to be verging on scandal - in art, almost always a sign that you've done something right.

While Open Letter to the Evening News sparked debate for its subject matter, Maselli's cinematic approach to the material was, for some, also controversial. Having already made several documentaries - even assisting Michelangelo Antonioni on one of his own - with this fictional film, Maselli also employs a visual language which most would identify with documentarians. Of course, by 1970 cinema-verite was nothing new; however, Maselli goes beyond trying to approximate documentary/newsreel footage. Shooting on 16mm reversal, the director chose to over-expose the majority of the film (by 3 stops) resulting in bright, high contrast images that frequently blow out. The harsh results are by no means attractive, and yet, the brightness, that at times borders on blinding, perfectly suits the film and its unrelenting "interrogation" of its subjects and subject matter.

The roaming, hand-held camerawork featured in Open Letter to the Evening News also lends to the overall aesthetic of realism. However, Maselli's approach to editing contrasts with this, in part, by being highly stylized rather than merely "straightforward". The entire film is visually and narratively fragmented, and rather than easing one into its irregular tempo, from the outset the viewer is thrust unceremoniously into what is often a jarring and complex cinematic experience. Not surprisingly, given the intricate editing techniques that were used and the vast amount of footage that was shot, Open Letter to the Evening News took a year and a half for Maselli to edit.

This complexity extends to the characters, of which there are several, and their stories, which continually converge, split away, and rejoin. The actors do exceptional work giving completely believable, fully realized performances that register as realistic and unrehearsed. Complementing this, Open Letter to the Evening News is set in stark locations that accentuate the film's successful attempts at realism, in addition to its general visual austerity. To be certain, Open Letter to the Evening News is a difficult film that will not suit all viewers. That being said, it is also a rewarding film that asks provocative questions, contains ever-relevant themes, and is sure to evoke thought and discussion.

NoShame's new DVD release of Open Letter to the Evening News reaches their normal standards of distinguished excellence. The film was restored using the 16mm vault negative, but as mentioned, Open Letter to the Evening News was shot on Kodachrome reversal, resulting in a grainy, over-exposed image. This may bother some viewers, but ultimately this was the "rough look" Maselli strove for, and achieved, with this film. The Italian DD Mono track is also without problems and is accompanied by optional English subtitles.

The array of extras begin with an introduction to the film by director Francesco Maselli. Following the film, viewers can delve into an interview with Maselli titled, Open Letter From A Comrade, during which Maselli details his involvement in leftist politics, and his fascinating, but expensive, approach to making Open Letter to the Evening News. Next is another interview, this time with Maselli and the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni. The last extra on the disc is a series of experimental photographs from Maselli, which he introduces.

This special edition release also comes with a second disc that features a full-length historical documentary Francesco Maselli made in 2005 titled, Fragments of the Twentieth Century. This award-winning film is Maselli's controversial look at Italian history, and is an amazing addition to the generous amount of extras already gracing this excellent NoShame release.

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