Grim Ripper, The (La Commare Secca): Bertolucci’s Brilliant Directing Debut

La commare secca, released in the U.S. as The Grim Ripper (literally “The Skinny Gossip”), marks the impressive feature debut of Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, age 21, who also wrote the script, based based on a short story by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Though the film bears resemblance to Japanese Akira Kurosawa’s influential movie, Rashomon, Bertolucci denied having seen that film at the time.

The tale begins with the brutal image of a prostitute’s corpse on the bank of the Tiber in Rome.

This is followed by a series of interrogations of suspects by the police, all of whom have been in a nearby park at the time of the murder.

Each suspect recounts his activities during the day and evening, and each narrative serves as a slice of life story.

For instance, a young man tells the police that he was meeting with priests in order to get a job recommendation, though we see that he and his friends spent the time trying to rob lovers in the park.

A gigolo treats both of his girlfriends badly.

A soldier, having failed in his attempts at picking up women, falls asleep on a park bench.

Two teenage boys share a pleasant afternoon with two girls, before stealing from a homosexual man in the park.

The final flashback depicts the prostitute’s murder by a man in clogs who had been interrogated and who is finally apprehended at a dance.

Each narrative is interrupted by a sudden thunderstorm, which leads to an interlude at the prostitute’s apartment as she prepares for the evening.

The film was hailed by international critics as a success by a major new talent.

Many Italian critics thought it was very much a Pasolini film, although Bertolucci made a conscious effort to create his own individual style.