Bitter Rice – The Criterion Collection #792 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 23, 2016 by  


Giuseppe De Santis’ “Bitter Rice” takes a different path compared to other Italian neorealism films and its focus on two female leads and balancing sex, romance, socioeconomic status with a crime thriller.  It’s a memorable, classic Italian film which I highly recommend!

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Bitter Rice – The Criterion Collection #792


DURATION: 109 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, black and white/color-tinted, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Stereo, Subtitles: English


RELEASE DATE: January 12, 2016

Directed by Giuseppe De Santis

Story by Giuseppe De Santis, Carlo Lizzani, Gianni Puccini 

Written by Corrado Alvaro, Carlo Musso, Ivo Perilli

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis

Cinematography by Otello Martelli

Edited by Gabriele Varriale

Production Design by Carlo Egidi

Costume Design by Anna Gobbi


Vittorio Gassman as Walter

Doris Dowling as Francesca

Silvana Mangano as Silvana

Raf Vallone as Marco

Checco Rissone as Aristide

Nico Pepe as Beppe

Adriana Sivieri as Celeste

Lia Corelli as Amelia

Marie Grazia Francia as Gabriella

During planting season in Northern Italy’s Po Valley, an earthy rice-field worker (Silvana Mangano) falls in with a small-time criminal (Vittorio Gassman) who is planning a daring heist of the crop, as well as his femme-fatale-ish girlfriend, played by the Hollywood star Doris Dowling. Both a socially conscious look at the hardships endured by underpaid field workers and a melodrama tinged with sex and violence, this early smash for producer extraordinaire Dino De Laurentiis and director Giuseppe De Santis is neorealism with a heaping dose of pulp.


From Italian filmmaker Giuseppe De Santis (“Tragic Hunt”, “Obsessione”, “Men and Wolves”) is his 1949 classic Italian neorealism style film, “Bitter Rice” (Riso Amaro).

Co-written with De Santis and Carlo Lizzani, the film stars Vittorio Gassman (“Sleepers”, “Big Deal on Madonna Street”, “Il Sorpasso”, “Scent of a Woman”), Doris Dowling (“The Lost Weekend”, “The Blue Dahlia”, “Othello”), Silvana Mangano (“Dune”, “Teorema”, “Oedipus Rex”, “Death in Venice”) and Raf Vallone (“The Italian Job”, “El Cid”, “The Godfather: Part III”).

The film was nominated for an “Academy Award for Best Story” in 1950 and was selected as one of the “100 Italian Films to be Saved” (established by Venice Days at the 65th Venice International Film Festival in collaboration with Cinecitta Holding and the support of Ministry of Cultural Heritage).

And now, Giuseppe De Santis’ film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection in January 2016.

“Bitter Rice” begins with an introduction of how hundreds of women head to northern Italy during the rice-planting season for work.

Meanwhile, Walter (portrayed by Vittorio Gassman) and Francesca (portrayed by Doris Dowling) are on the run after stealing a diamond necklace.

As the two head to the crowded trains, in order to hide from the authorities, Francesca keeps the necklace, while Walter tries to evade police by dancing with peasant rice worker, Silvana (portrayed by Silvana Mangano).

But Walter is discovered by authorities and both he and Francesca go on their separate ways in separate trains.

As Francesca tries her best to hide the diamond necklace, she befriends Silvana who knows that she and Walter are being trailed by police.  As Silvana tries to get information about Walter from Francesca, Francesca tells her that he nearly got her killed.

As Francesca needs a job, Silvana eventually tries to introduce Francesca to work in the rice field.  But Francesca doesn’t have a work permit and she and others (deemed as “illegals”) who don’t have a permit, are looked down upon because documented workers feel the illegals are stealing money away from them.

While arriving to the field, they run into the servicemen who occupied the rooms and are leaving.  Marco (portrayed by Raf Vallone) flirts with Silvana but while the two are talking, Silvana starts to suspect that Francesca is hiding something.

As Francesca goes to get the pillows and blankets for her bed, Silvana discovers what Francesca was hiding and that they were the diamond jewels that was reported stolen.

This leads to a division between both women, as Silvana despises thieves and works to make things difficult for Francesca (who is an undocumented worker) at the rice field.

Meanwhile, Walter and a few other thieves arrive to the fields, so he can connect with Francesca but he immediately turns his attention towards Silvana.


“Bitter Rice – The Criterion Collection #792” is presented in 1:33:1 black and white and in 1080p High Definition. The film looks absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray!

White and grays are well-contrast, black levels are nice and deep and the detail and sharpness is fantastic.  I did not notice any issues with the picture quality with blurriness or any scratches or dust during my viewing of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “this new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain and jitter.


As for the lossless audio, “Bitter Rice – The Criterion Collection #792”. The film is presented in Italian LPCM 1.0 and according to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the optical track print.  Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and Izotope RX 4.

Subtitles are in English.


“Bitter Rice – The Criterion Collection #792” comes with the following special features:

  • Giuseppe De Santis – (52:33) Featuring a 2008 documentary by Carlo Lizzani, the primary screenwriter of “Bitter Rice” and frequent collaborator of Giuseppe De Santis, covers the career of the director.
  • Carlos Lizzani – (6:36) A 2002 interview with “Bitter Rice” screenwriter Carlos Lizzani.
  • Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Bitter Rice”.


“Bitter Rice – The Criterion Collection #792” comes with a eight-page foldout with the essay “A Field in Italy” by Pasquale Iannone.


When it comes to Italian neorealism style films, Giuseppe De Santis “Bitter Rice” is perhaps one of the most memorable films because of its female leads.

Away from the city and focused on a rice field, the film focuses on two women, among hundreds who come to northern France to make money for a little over a month planting or gathering rice.

Everyone wants a fair share of making money to bring home to their families and are willing to undergo the hardships of working on the field.

But we clearly see the division between documented and non-documented workers, which pits the film’s two female leads, Francesa and Silvana.

It just happens to be that the actress playing the roles are no doubt cinematic bombshells.  Francesca Dowling captivates you with her emotions of being unemployed and wanting to be accepted and her transformation of the girlfriend and accomplice of a thief to a person who wants to try to do the right thing.

Meanwhile Silvana Mangano is the curvy bombshell with sex appeal.  Quickly captivating viewers with her sexy dances moves and attracting the men of the film.

The film’s Italian neorealism touches upon poverty and how far thieves would go to make money to whichever length necessary.

I enjoyed this film because it’s unlike the dreary storylines that take place during post-war era.  Poverty, unemployment and women leaving home to make money for their family, is a realistic portrayal of a damaged economy.  And we see the troubles these women endure from beginning to the end of their 40-day work period.

Personally, I felt the film was well-cast as Doris Dowling and Silvana Mangano were wonderful, sexy and brought added dimension for their character and making us believe in their situation and transformation.  The film incorporates crime elements, a little of the darkness one would typically see in noir but for the most part, poverty and worries about one’s livelihood is quite prominent in this Italian neorealistic film.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality for the film was wonderful as the grays and whites were well-contrast, black levels were nice and deep but the sharpness and detail of watching the film in HD is quite noticeable.  Lossless audio is in monaural LPCM 1.0.  And you get a few special features included on this Blu-ray release.

Overall, Giuseppe De Santis’ “Bitter Rice” takes a different path compared to other Italian neorealism films and its focus on two female leads and balancing sex, romance, socioeconomic status with a crime thriller.  It’s a memorable, classic Italian film which I highly recommend!

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