RICE GIRLS

My longing to delve into the past and preserve historical memory can no doubt be traced to the fears I myself harbor when confronted with the relentlessness and inexorability time. This film attempts to dispel some of the common stereotypes that regard old age. The women of Rice Girls transmit an extraordinary desire to live – which refuses to be crushed by the onset of old age, just as it could never be defeated by years of toil in the rice paddies. Matteo Bellizzi

Every spring, huge areas of land around Vercelli (northern Italy) are flooded with water and turned into rice paddies. From the 30’s to the 60’s thousands of women, called ‘mondine’ (rice-weeders), traveled from the poorer parts of northern Italy (Emilia and Veneto) to find work weeding rice for 40 days. The ‘rice girls’ worked 8 to 10 hours, entering the water at dawn in their bare feet and staying bent over to eliminate the weed. The oldest among them collapsed with fatigue immediately after sunset; but the young girls would often go out onto the threshing floor where the boys were waiting. Someone would bring an accordion and the weariness would vanish as they started to dance. These women fought the fatigue and hard times with the strength of their youth, and this was expressed in all the liberating force of song. The image of the ‘mondine’ has always been bound to songs that speak of hard labor, freedom, love and homesickness.

Today the farms have been turned into modern workshops. Nonetheless, the rice paddy remains a fascinating landscape: every spring, the land turns to sea, then as green as the prairie; in September it becomes golden yellow, like a wheat field. But it has lost something – the women that brought it alive.

Italy / 2003 / 56 min.
Director: Matteo Bellizzi
Production: Stefilm
Coproduction: YLE- TV1 / Teema Finnish Broadcasting Corporation with the partecipation of RTSI Televisione Svizzera and the support of Regione Piemonte

Italy / 2003 / 56 min.
Director: Matteo Bellizzi
Production: Stefilm
Coproduction: YLE- TV1 / Teema Finnish Broadcasting Corporation with the partecipation of RTSI Televisione Svizzera and the support of Regione Piemonte