Extract from Teacher's Commentary: 

SEQUENCE 1
AN UNEXPECTED PHONECALL
Let the film roll until Totò leaves the projection booth

Films often begin with an action that sets the scene for the plot that follows. The location and some of the characters are established. Often the main theme and imagery are introduced as well. Sometimes an enigma is presented and the action of the film proceeds to solve that enigma to the satisfaction of the audience.

At some point in the opening sequence the credits roll. These titles end, usually, with the name of the Producer and then the Director. In this film the titles end with the name of the film. The logo’s design unites the bowls, one outside and empty, the other inside and full of lemons. Over the evocative Mediterranean score by Ennio Morricone the camera has tracked back from the empty bowl on the brightly lit verandah with the sea in the background to an interior shot of a bowl full of lemons in a darkened room. The contrasts are notable between outside and inside, full and empty, light and dark.

We soon find out that the opening action centres around an absent man, Salvatore Di Vita. He has not been to Sicily for thirty years. There might be various explanations as to why he has not returned for all that time. We expect that the film will enlighten us on the matter. This may be the enigma that is raised at the beginning of the film. Solving the enigma may become the motor that will drive the film.

On his first entry into the action of the film Di Vita is photographed driving in a stylish Mercedes car with the Victor Emmanuel monument in the background. The camera reprises the back-tracking of the opening shot - of the empty bowl against the sea - as Di Vita cruises down the Rome thoroughfare.

Di Vita’s apartment, too, looks elegant and stylish. A windchime sounds as he looks out the window, setting up a motif of bells that will run thought the opening sequences of the film and will recur later.

The sound of thunder can be heard as the couple talk of the phonecall. As Totò turns away to contemplate the unexpected news of Alfredo’s death, the sound of the windchimes is heard over the thunder. Lightning flashes and the shadow of the chimes falls over his face like bars. It is a face haunted by memories, memories that may have lain hidden for thirty years.

We cut from the darkness of Di Vita’s apartment to another shot of a dark setting with a beam of light shining from the top left-hand corner. The true nature of the setting is only gradually revealed. The sound of bells continues over the cut in the music score. We come to realise that we are in a chapel.

Fr Adelfio forgets the Latin formula of words for the consecration because his altar server, Totò, has forgotten to ring the hand-bell at the right moment. In the vestry later we learn that he needs the sound of the bell to remind him of the words. The bell is associated with memory. Sounds trigger memory. The wind-chimes in Di Vita’s apartment become the first detail in a recurring motif in which bells are a metaphor for memory.

In this exchange between Fr Adelfio and his altar boy, we find that Totò is not stuck for words when it comes to arguing with the priest. We also learn that he comes from a poor background where there is little enough to eat and health advice is dispensed by the local vet!

As Fr Adelfio ejects Totò from the vestry the wind blows open his wardrobe, and a statue of a brown-robed monk (St Anthony?) is exposed. He casts his eyes to heaven with a long-suffering look on his face. This is a religious icon. There will be many other icons, religious and profane, in this film as it progresses.

We cut to an overhead shot of Fr Adelfio coming through a door. Another icon, a statue of the Virgin stands on the right of the screen. For all the world this setting looks look a chapel. It turns out to be, in fact, a cinema. The chapel was introduced to us by showing a beam of light cutting through a darkened hall. The cinema is introduced as if it were a chapel. Chapel and cinema are presented to us in an ambiguous way.

Fr Adelfio calls on Alfredo to align the image on the screen properly. During the Mass he found reason to complain that the sound was not right. In this ceremony he finds fault with the visuals. Is it right to use the word ‘ceremony’ in this context? The setting is similar to the chapel; there is a priest officiating; he is being served (by someone who is not measuring up); there is the important role of the hand-bell in both; there are icons present in both, and both are presented as places of light and dark where what is seen and what is heard is very important, where the sound and the visuals are inter-dependent.

The sound of the hand-bell indicates the portion of the film that the people of the town will not see. The furious ringing of the small bell is drowned out by the sonorous gong of the church-bell sounding over the Piazza. Fr Adelfio’s sphere of influence extends beyond the four walls of the chapel, into the cinema and over the whole town. This power is signified by the high angle shot from the bell-tower of the people as they go about their everyday life in the square below.

We see various activities going on in the Piazza. In one case a man is trying to sell nylons to the local women as they go about their chores. This may represent the yearning people have for some bit of luxury and comfort as an antidote for the drudgery of their life. Can they afford this item? We cut to an exterior shot of the cinema and we hear a fanfare signalling the end of the show. Then we cut to the reel full of bits of paper, indicating all the scenes that Fr Adelfio will not allow the people to see. He will guard his flock from the sinful pleasure of watching people kiss on the silver screen. This simple pleasure and escapism from the drudgery of everyday life is kept beyond their reach by forces outside their control.

Alfredo does not want Totò in the projection booth because of the danger of fire. The boy gives back as good as he gets, just as he had done with Fr Adelfio in the vestry scene. This parallelism between the characters, the action and the setting is added to by the presence of the film poster showing the Hollywood icons Bogart and Hepburn corresponding to the religious icons of the chapel and the vestry.

Extract from Student's Guide: 

STAGE ONE

SEQUENCE 1
AN UNEXPECTED PHONECALL
Read the following questions and then let the film roll until Totò leaves the projection booth

Is there any pattern that films follow in their opening sequences? How do you recognise the end of the credit sequence usually? What is your reading of what we have been shown up to the point at which the film's title appears? How would you describe the music score? Do the sound and image unite to make any particular impression on you?

What kind of a person is Salvatore Di Vita, based on the conversation of the two women in Sicily? How are we, the audience, invited to view him, when he is introduced in Rome? What are you basing your opinion on?

What sound is heard as Di Vita looks out his bedroom window?

How long is it since Di Vita has visited Sicily? Is this the first contact in all that time? What other sound can be heard as the couple chat about the call? How does Di Vita react to the mention of Alfredo? What sounds are to be heard as he begins to think back on his associations with Sicily? What do you make of the shadows on his face as the music starts up again?

What is the setting for the next scene? Did you recognise it immediately? At what point did you recognise it for sure? Is there any ambiguity in the way this setting is presented to the audience? How many links can you make between this image and that of Di Vita in his bedroom?

As the scene progresses, can you spot any other links back to the bedroom in Rome?

What is Fr Adelfio complaining about in the vestry? What do we find out about Totò's home-life? What is the last image in this scene? What might this signify?

When did you first realise that Fr Adelfio was in a cinema? Rewind the film and freeze the frame during the very first shot in the cinema. Is there a link back to the previous setting?

Is there any similarity in the way the chapel and the cinema have been presented to the audience?

As the film begins to roll, Fr Adelfio again complains. What is annoying him now? What adjustment does Alfredo have to make for him? Can you see a connection between the two things that have upset him in the film so far?

What similarities are there between this scene and the chapel scene in terms of setting, characters and action?

How is the transition made to the Piazza scene? What is going on there? Is there any activity in the montage of shots that does not quite fit with the rest? Look back at the first question in this paragraph again. How were the people of Giancaldo first shown to us? What was on the soundtrack as Fr Adelfio rang the handbell? What might the sound and picture signify about power in this town?

What has been going on in the cinema in the meantime, judging by the amount of paper slips in the projector reel?
Why does Alfredo not want Totò in the projection booth? What kind of a character is Totò?

STAGE TWO
Re-reading in a prescribed mode
ORDINARY & HIGHER LEVELS - COMPARATIVE MODES:
SOCIAL SETTING/CULTURAL CONTEXT

This mode refers to the world of the text:
- what kind of people live in this world?
- what sense of place is built up and how is this achieved?
- in what period of history is it set (time)?
To re-read the film in this mode you should choose a number of key moments - scenes or sequences that feature the world that Totò lives in. You need to examine the power structures, attitude and values, rituals and customs of the people who inhabit this world. You could say that there are two worlds in this film in time and place - the past and the present and Sicily and Rome. Alfredo and Maria refers to these worlds in Sequences 7 and 9 respectively.

You might begin your investigation of the role of this mode in the film by examining the funeral scene. You could make a list of the main characters and the settings they walk through. Then go back and see how these characters and places have been portrayed in the flashback scenes as remembered by Di Vita in Rome on the night before he returns home to Sicily after thirty years.

* Compare and contrast the past and the present in this film under various headings, e.g. people, wealth/poverty, manners, lifestyle, buildings, changes, progress etc.

* Make a selection of five key moments or groups of scenes, that feature the different aspects of Giancaldo and its townspeople, past and present.

* Consult the notes you wrote in your Response Journal for the scenes you have chosen.

* Now answer all the questions in Stage One that relate to the social setting in these scenes.

* People:
For each sequence you have chosen ask yourself questions like:
Who has power in this world in society, in the family, in work?
How is this power used?
What aspects of political life are evident in this sequence?
What values do the people of this world see as important? Do any changes come over their value systems in this sequence?
What is the role of religion in this world? Do any changes come over the Church in this sequence?
Is there a class system operating in this world? How does it show itself? Do any changes come over this system in this sequence?
What is it like to be a child, a woman, a man in this world?
What are the main influences working on these people?
What rituals and customs have the people of Giancaldo?
- When and why do they gather together?
- How do they dress?
- How do they behave towards each other?
* Place:
Make a list of the different locations that are presented to us in the scenes you have chosen.
How are these settings presented to us? How is the atmosphere built up in these settings?
How is Sicily influenced by other parts of the world in this sequence?
* Time:
In the key moments you have chosen what indications are there of the period in which the action is set?
What indications do we get of time moving on?
What aspects of progress do we see in this sequence?
* Imagery:
How is the mise en scène, camera, sound and editing used to get the world of the film across to us?
How are we, the audience, positioned by the camerawork and sound to view the people of this world?
Does the setting work on a symbolic level in this sequence?
Do any of the props take on a symbolic role in this scene?
How is the lighting used in this scene?