[Originally published in The Weekly, 1979]
…Another, more peculiar Italian film has opened this past week: Ettore Scola’s Down and Dirty. A surrealistic comedy bedrocked in a card-carrying realist milieu, it deals with a dirt-poor Italian family living in a shantytown. The catch is that the family numbers in excess of twenty—in-laws, outlaws, legitimate and illegitimate children—and they all live in one (1) crumbling hutch on a mudflat. Although their occupations include housekeeping, nursing, pursesnatching, and several varieties of prostitution, they have one thing in common: they all hate papa Giacinto and he hates them.
Story is rarely the long suit in Italian movies and Down and Dirty is no exception. Having established the basic situation—embellished by the fact that Giacinto has received a sizable insurance settlement for the loss of one eye, money that he must constantly shift from hidey-hole to hidey-hole and guard with a sawed-off shotgun—Scola simply plays it and plays it. He gets away with this, keeps it all interesting, because he has a truly grotesque sense of humor and boundless capacity for visual invention within carefully maintained limits.