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Home Vision Entertainment presents
A Brief Vacation (Una Breve vacanza) (1973)

Luigi: Lots of Calabrians here in Milan.
Clara: We should have stayed home.
Luigi: On account of the climate?
Clara: On account of everything. We had so many illusions when we started out.

- Daniel Quenaud, Florinda Bolkan

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: December 17, 2003

Stars: Florinda Bolkan, Renato Salvatori, Daniel Quenaud
Director: Vittorio de Sica

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:45m:48s
Release Date: December 16, 2003
UPC: 037429185322
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+CC- C-

DVD Review

Director Vittorio de Sica is held in high esteem for his contributions to the film movement known as Italian neo-realism, especially for his masterpieces Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief. Beginning during World War II, the films of this movement examined the (usually) desperate lives of their lower-class protagonists, with a purportedly direct, realistic visual style, and a view towards social criticism. Although it died out as a movement in little less than a decade, de Sica's films of this era, along with those of fellow neo-realist directors Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, and Alberto Lattuada, remain among the enduring film classics.

But all good things must come to an end. After 1952's Umberto D., de Sica's career stagnated, and apart from the occasional box-office success, he was relegated to the shadows. He made a brief comeback in 1972 with The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which, like Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief before it, won an Academy Award®. But with this film, de Sica seems to have exhausted his creative powers, and its follow-up, A Brief Vacation, his penultimate film, is a bit of a disappointment.

Clara (Florinda Bolkan) shares cramped, dilapidated living conditions with her husband Franco (Renato Salvatori), her mother-in-law, her shiftless brother-in-law, and her three children. Ground down by her tiring factory job, she falls ill, and goes to the National Health service. While waiting in line, she meets a handsome stranger, Luigi (Daniel Quenaud), who takes her for a cup of coffee, but her brother-in-law spots her in the café. On her return, she is verbally and physically abused by her husband, who is only convinced of her illness when he accompanies her to the doctor the next day. This first part of the film is typically neo-realist, but it soon switches gears.

Diagnosed with an early, curable stage of tuberculosis, Clara is sent to a sanatorium in the mountains to recover, and her life takes a 180 degree turn. The rooms are bright, clean and spacious; the food nutritious and plentiful; her fellow patients, many of them well-off, take a shine to her and build up her self-confidence; and she is pursued not only by a doctor, but also by Luigi, who is staying at the sanatorium as well. Instead of the repression and desperation of her life in Milan, she is now in an environment where she can grow and thrive. Indeed, this part of the film is so contrary to the gloom and social determinism of typical neo-realist films, that some have argued that de Sica, only a few years from death, had mellowed in his old age. But the film ain't over till it's over....

De Sica and cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri distinguish carefully between the opening sequences, and those set in and around the sanatorium. In the first part of the film, the framing is cramped, colors are desaturated, and Milan seems set in a perpetual fog. Once we arrive in the mountains, the colors and contrasts become striking, and the framing opens up to reveal not only the spacious settings, but some spectacular mountain vistas. On a micro level, de Sica's visual style is less interesting, and he even succumbs to the old cliché of zooming in on faces to express strong emotions. But occasionally he hits the mark, as in a sequence where Clara attends a concert (most likely her first), and the intercut close-ups of her face and the violin eloquently convey her feelings.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image is almost at all times hazy and lacking detail, as if set in a perpetual fog (which admittedly made the early shots of foggy Milan all the more effective). Some of this may be due to the source print, since other Italian films from the same era share this same fault to a greater or lesser degree. Colors are reasonably good, enough to clearly perceive the differences between the drab early sequences and the more colorful sanatorium. There is grain in some shots, and the black levels are only adequate. The source print has some speckles and flaws, including some hairs stuck in the film gate.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Italianyes

Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel, non-surround audio is limited in fidelity. There is occasional crackling accompanying the background music, and the distortion and harshness of a train whistle are painful on the ears. The sound is okay, but only just so.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Two excerpts from de Sica's Woman Times Seven
  2. Printed insert with notes and chapter listing
Extras Review: Home Vision has included a curious extra, two excerpts from de Sica's 1967 Woman Times Seven. This episodic film presents seven short stories of adultery, and the first, "Funeral Procession" (complete with opening credits) and the last, "Snow" (with end credits) are included here. They're anamorphic, but quite grainy and with faded color.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Master neo-realist director Vittorio de Sica stumbles a bit in his penultimate film, with its predictable plot and occasional melodramatic moments. The transfer is hazy and lacking in detail, and the post-dubbed sound is adequate.


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