Entertainment Magazine

The Organizer

Posted on the 02 September 2016 by Christopher Saunders

The Organizer

"You have to hold out and make them pay, so they know the next time it'll be even worse."

The Organizer (1963) provides a seriocomic treatment of labor disputes. Mario Monicelli takes a nuanced look at the inner workings of a strike, lacking the strident propaganda of similar films.
Textile workers in 19th Century Turin strike after a man's maimed in an accident. They come under the sway of Professor Sinigaglia (Marcello Mastroianni), a visiting firebrand with a shady past. Factory boss Luigi (Kenneth Kove) refuses to negotiate, leading to clashes between labor and management. But the strikers spend more time arguing with themselves, preventing effective action.
With a script by comedy writers Age Scarpelli, The Organizer brilliantly evokes 19th Century Italy. Shooting in Yugoslavia, Monicelli pares grim mill scenes with squalid scenes of everyday life. The peasants work 14 hour days and live in filthy hovels, illiterate and underfed; a child relishes a bowl of soup crawling with flies. Monicelli alters neorealist detail with swooping crane shots and elaborate set pieces, like the rumble at a smoky train station or the final confrontation.
Despite his sympathy, Monicelli avoids the ennobling Marxism of an Eisenstein or Bertolucci, showing the workers divided by regional backgrounds and temperament. They pepper a Sicilian colleague with slurs and struggle to understand another's working class dialect. Women workers bristle at casual sexism; Niobe (Annie Girardot) becomes a consort to wealthy men, spurning her colleagues as idiots. Leader Raoul (Renato Salvatori) loses his nerve at key moments, while tough guy Pautasso (Folco Lulli) advocates action over talk.
Equally unusual, The Organizer doesn't glorify its hero. The Professor is a brilliant man but he's constantly held up to ridicule, by characters and the filmmakers. He tries to recruit a group of scabs and gets a beating for his trouble; he plays a flute, Pied Piper style, in a restaurant and gets booted for his trouble. When a colleague dies in an accident the strikers savage him as an outside agitator, wondering if he's a detriment to the cause. Fed up, he incites them with socialist rhetoric which leads to a tragedy.
Marcello Mastroianni gives a beautiful performance, portraying the Professor as an idealist struggling to reconcile rhetoric to the real world. Renato Salvatori makes a shifty sidekick; he's recognizable from other political dramas like Quemada! and Z. Rafaella Carra plays Raoul's tough-minded girlfriend Bianca; she'd later costar in Von Ryan's Express. Folco Lulli steals his scenes as an oaf who becomes an idealist.
The Organizer climaxes with a labor-management clash but ends with a quieter personal note, with Raoul and Bianca failing to reconcile as Raoul moves on. This marks The Organizer's greatest achievement, seeing its workers not as pawns in a class struggle but flawed, dynamic individuals.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog