‘After living seven years with the mechanic Aldo, having a daughter with him, the simple woman Irma is informed that her absent husband had just died in Sydney. She becomes upset when Aldo proposes to marry her and she tells him that she is going to leave him. Unable to explain how much he loves her, Aldo takes their daughter Rosina and travels with her, meeting different women in different places, trying to establish a new relationship and fill the emptiness of his sentimental life. He visits his former lover Elvia; he meets and lives with the widow Virginia, who owns a gas station; he lives with the prostitute Andreina. But these relationships never complete the needy Aldo.’
This is the plot of an Italian neo-realistic drama ‘Il Grido’ directed by Michelangelo Antonio in 1957. The movie is a dark and realistic tale of a modern man and a modern woman, who are not modern in conventional sense but are modern since they live in and belong to the modern world. The movie is a sad portrayal of gradual and tragic disruption of man woman relationship in the contemporary society. Man is unable to relate and understand the woman and a woman is unable to complete and satisfy the man. This shatters the so-called bonding between the two and leaves them disgruntled and dissatisfied for their whole lives. French master Jean-luc Godard says in his movie ‘Breathless’ directed in 1960 that the modern life increasingly separates men and women. Antonio demonstrates the same three years earlier than Godard in ‘Il Grido’.
‘Il Grido’ an Italian phrase, which actually means an outcry in English begins with a woman named ‘Irma’ who finds herself wedged in a situation when she is informed that her husband has died in war. Hearing this, Aldo who has plans to marry her since last seven years proposes her for marriage. Irma shatters all his hopes by informing him that she is leaving him for another man. Aldo tries his best to convince her about his feelings but she doesn’t revert back from her decision. Irma is a simple middle class woman of modern world, married to a war soldier for whom she is waiting for the last seven years. In the meanwhile she begins an affair with a man much younger than her to satisfy her physical and emotional needs and she also has a daughter born out of this promiscuous relationship. The time has indeed inflicted grievous wounds on her psychological state. It has kept her physically, sexually and socially deprived for the past so many years. When Aldo finally proposes her for marriage, she immediately rejects him by saying that she is involved with some another man. Probably she doesn’t want to indulge in another tragic wedlock. And probably she doesn’t want to love again. Irma possesses all the dispositions to be a remarkable wife, a wonderful mother and a dependable partner. But instead she has become an incompetent lover and an impossible wife. Irma is the finest portrayal of a modern woman caught in the moral and ethical code of a monogamous relationship who is unable to function either as a wife or as a lover. Irma is an example of a modern woman who can bore nothing but only pain and solitude out of her emptiness.
After he fails to convince her for marriage, Aldo takes their daughter and travels with her aimlessly. He visits his former lover Elvia and even lives with her for some days. It seems that the things would fall in place but when Irma visits Elvia to return a suitcase for Aldo, Elvia confronts a truth about Aldo’s sudden visit after so many years. When she comes to know that Aldo has returned after being disappointed by Irma, she feels deceived and tells him to go away. Elvia is a beautiful young woman deeply in love with her former lover. She has moved ahead with time but has still not discarded her feelings for him. She is still single after so many years of her break-up with Aldo. She is still waiting for him and is very pleased to see him again. She wants him back but she wants him alone. Elvia is another fine example of a modern female damaged by the tradition of monogamous relationship. She is a beautiful lover indeed but can only love when the monogamous code is satisfied. She can be a remarkable wife too. But her unsuccessful relationship with a former lover has made her an incapable woman. She cannot love again. And even if she marries somebody she would be unable to gratify her partner. She has imposed lifelong pain and anguish upon herself. She would remain alone and sexually frustrated for her entire life.
Aldo leaves Elvia and meets a widow Virginia who owns a gas station. He is physically drawn to her and gets involved in a purely sexual relationship with Virginia. It results in several wild sexual encounters between the two of them. But when Aldo’s daughter becomes affected with this relationship, things start taking a difficult turn. Virginia finds her an unnecessary intervention in their relationship. As a result, Aldo sends his daughter away to her mother for few days. Disappointed by Virginia’s attitude towards his daughter, Aldo leaves her and goes away. Virginia is an attractive, middle-aged, loud-mouthed, sexually starving independent female. Solitude has taught her a lot but has also made her inept in certain aspects. She is an excellent prostitute but an extremely poor wife and an equally poor lover. Virginia is another example of a modern female who knows the art of love making and seduction but is incapable of sustaining it for long. She is an ethical slut, capable of travelling the journey from attraction to orgasm but is incapable of taking the orgasm from a purely physical echelon to a higher spiritual echelon. Indisputably she has comprehended the worthlessness of the institution of marriage but in the process she has also abandoned all other possibilities which can erupt from a man-woman relationship. Probably she has suffered a lot from her previous loss which has caused an irreparable damage to her persona. She cannot be a wife to a man. She can only be a filthy prostitute. And this would keep her discontented and despicable forever.
Aldo leaves Virginia too and meets a prostitute Andreina in an informal gathering with some friends. Andreina becomes sick with high fever. Aldo offers her care and affection in her illness. But she feels absurd and rejects his offerings. They meet again and Aldo narrates her some incident from his former relationship with Irma. Andreina is unable to understand his logic and gets irritated in return. They start living together but when Aldo is unable to fulfill her basic needs of food and shelter, she goes back and leaves him forever. Andreina is a young, charming and seductive prostitute. She possesses the skill to fascinate and allure any man she desires. But she is incapable of loving anybody and is also incapable of accepting the love if offered too. She just needs a physical partner who could fulfill her basic requirements of life. She doesn’t need a lover and she doesn’t want a husband too. Probably her profession has exhausted all the virtues out of her and made her a completely superficial person. She has reduced herself to an entirely physical being. She doesn’t believe in the worth and significance of anything beyond the basic. Probably she doesn’t understand or she doesn’t want to understand it only. She would remain happy if her requirements are fulfilled otherwise she has only hatred and disgust to offer anybody. This brief encounter also brings out the failure of Aldo as a man to satisfy the social and economic needs of a woman.
Il Grido portrays four different women in the life of a modern man; Irma, an excellent woman who has abandoned all the hopes from a man woman relationship; Elvia, an excellent lover who can only love if terms and conditions of monogamy are fulfilled; Virginia, an irresponsible woman who can only function if she dominates in a relationship with another man; Andreina, a lusty prostitute who has nothing more to offer anybody besides her body. Il Grido reminds me of ‘Bhumika’, an Indian movie directed by the legendary ‘Shyam Benegal’ about a Marathi actress trapped in a similar situation, with the main lead played by a female legend Smita Patil. ‘Bhumika’ presented an Indian woman discovering her place and sexuality in a male dominated society, meeting different men in different situations and places, ultimately opting to stay alone for her entire life. The modern times have made them incomplete and incapable in some form or the other. Aldo remains dissatisfied till the end. But Aldo is not alone in his unique quest of life.
Il Grido is an outcry of a modern man who wanders aimlessly searching for his soul mate. Il Grido is also an outcry of a modern woman who feels incapable of providing an end to his quest. The modern times have greatly separated man and woman. The modern times have translated the man-woman relationship into a moral code of monogamy. Both of them need to realize the need and re-codify the entire structure in collaboration. Man needs to understand a woman and woman needs to re-discover her beauty to relate to a man. Only then we could hope to bring an end to this outcry.