Blu-ray Review: Il bidone

Starring: Broderick Crawford, Richard Basehart

Director: Federico Fellini

Rating: 4/5

Il bidone (The Swindle) finds Fellini in neo-realist vein, and it has to stand as one of the bleakest of all his films. It concerns a trio of petty hustlers who prey on the ignorant and wretched. There’s Picasso, a smiling hustler by day, a doting husband and father by night; Roberto, a flashy thug; and the central character, Augusto. Pushing fifty in what is a young man’s game, he’s cast in their scams as an authority figure, but treated with disrespect by Roberto behind the scenes. Is a sudden reunion with his daughter the chance at redemption he so evidently needs, or simply a cruel, crushing reminder of all he has lost?

As with many a Fellini film, Il bidone offers a potent mix of high life and low life, a round of parties, nightclubs, casual encounters and trips into the ugly hinterlands, all crowned, on this occasion, with a virtuoso sequence when a scam to do with the allocation of council houses almost causes a riot in the streets. But here the melange is especially dark and cynical, the exchanges oozing weariness and cut-throat desperation. And it’s all summed up in the figure of Augusto himself, as played by Broderick Crawford, broken down, forlorn, but with something shifty and reptilian about the eyes.

Packed with hostile, unpleasant characters and serving up an unremittingly downbeat ending, Il bidone is definitely a feel-bad movie par excellence, but it’s also impressive for its artistry and its controlled disgust. On this Blu-ray, the stark, pitiless, sun-baked cinematography comes up as beautifully as you would expect from Masters of Cinema, with only the occasional speckling, and the release is rounded out with a charming 50-minute interview with Fellini’s assistant on the movie.

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