Can Jules Dassin save the summer of 2010? Some 50 years after an unremarkable stateside run (under the awkwardly lurid title Where the Hot Wind Blows!), the exiled director’s forgotten, Euro-randy fable reemerges at just the right time; few things renew one’s faith in the moving image more than an unbridled Gina Lollobrigida cavorting in the Adriatic Sea with a flock of sheep.
A Northern Italian engineer (Mastroianni) arrives to stop a malaria outbreak in a small village but is thwarted by Southern inhospitality—and courted by the town beauty, Marietta (Lollobrigida). He’s also taught a local drinking game called “The Law,” in which one man—namely, the region’s top hood (Montand)—assumes absolute power over others. “There are those who are in charge,” the gangster tells a conquest, “and those who submit.”
A victim of the Hollywood blacklist, Dassin (Rififi) depicts every interaction in terms of that master-servant dynamic, imbuing the film with midcentury topicality and questionable sexual politics. Yet allegorical overtones are offset by florid performances that make the film feel dangerously alive; sweat is slurped, lovers practically eat each other’s mouths, and in a moment of proto--Asia Argento genius, Lollobrigida sniffs fresh blood from a dagger. Poised between comedy and tragedy, art-house prestige and overheated exploitation, The Law is everything that this season’s lackluster blockbusters are not: a damn good time.—Eric Hynes