Terra Trema, La (1948)

Terra Trema, La (1948)

“Fear for hunger haunts the fishermen.”

A family of Sicilian fishermen in the coastal village town of Aci Trezza struggle to open and keep their own business going, rather than selling to middlemen.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fishermen
  • Italian Films
  • Labor Movements
  • Luchino Visconti Films

Luchino Visconti’s second feature-length narrative film was this “docufiction” outing with a cast of all uncredited native Sicilians, very loosely based on Giovanni Verga’s 1881 novel I Malavoglia. It tells a brutal tale of a working class family (the Valastros) attempting to exercise their right to self-determination, but failing miserably through no fault of their own (their boat is destroyed in extreme weather), then being mocked or shunned by nearly all around them.

Anyone expecting a happy resolution will be disappointed; rather, one should go into this film knowing that Visconti meant to make a trilogy (with the final film ending on a more triumphant note), but stopped here. On the plus side, the non-professional cast is highly photogenic, and effective at simply playing a version of themselves (below is Antonio Arcidiacono as the oldest son in the Valastro family):

There are a few moments of gentle poignancy and sweetness:

… but for the most part, we are simply reminded by this movie that life in post-WWII Italy was hard-scrabble for most, and that it was nearly impossible to survive without relying on noblesse oblige and unquestioningly accepting one’s role in the class-based status quo.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography

  • Excellent use of authentic locales and daily life

Must See?
Yes, for its historical significance within neo-realist cinema. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director


One thought on “Terra Trema, La (1948)

  1. Agreed; a once-must, for its valuable place in Italian cinema history.

    I’ve seen this film twice; it’s certainly something that ffs should see and is rather memorable.

    Visconti is among the high-profile directors whose earlier work is better than what came after.

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