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The Earth trembles and Obsession

The problem of adaptation of literary works in neorealist films by Luchino Visconti

Despite the changes in style, all Visconti’s films were made based on literary models. His colleagues, screenwriters Suso Cechi D’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile and Enrico Medioli claim that even the shortest synopsis of Visconti’s films were the product of his readings. Sometimes he even blended several authors and literary styles. From the first Visconti's phase the author of the text chose neorealist films Obsession — adaptation of James Cain’s ’hard boiled’ novel The Postman Always Rings Twice — and The Earth Trembles, based on Verga’s novel Family Malavoglia, both of which approach the original text quite freely. The author explains the neorealist context, compares the structure of characters and events in Visconti’s film adaptations, where he often changed a character’s name if the character was very different from the corresponding character in the novel. In The Earth Trembles Visconti shifted the accent from historical anthropology in the novel Family Malavoglia to ideological anthropology — allusions to any actual historical epoch were much less elaborated. Sometimes he closely follows the original meaning of the literary work, while sometimes he twists it completely; leading to a conclusion that film is not a presentation of the literary text, but its true re-creation. Still, in the opening credits there is no mention of the novel.
Critics often say that Obsession was a master-piece based on a lousy novel, but loans from literary texts are much more important than simple borrowing of the plot. For example, dialogues in Visconti’s films often correspond with lines from its literary model. Nevertheless, Visconti elaborated the structure of the novel, introducing, for example, an important character — the Spaniard, while wicked judge Sackett and solicitor Katz from the novel have no counterpart in the film. Contrary to the novel, heroes in Obsession were confronted with the society that surrounds them.

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