“Paste Magazine” wrote:
by Sean Gandert
“Gente del Po” is very much a neo-realist work of its period, even though it’s completely a documentary rather than just having the trappings of reality. The film follows a family of fishers through their day-to-day life, inflecting a semblance of narrative onto things at the end by explaining a journey into town as a trip for medicine, but for the most part, the film is simply descriptive. Of course, Antonioni has never been particularly known for his narratives, which usually consist of little more than pretty young people angsting around, but here the difference is that the family doesn’t even approach characterization, described only as “a man, a woman, and a girl.”
In and of itself the film is not particularly interesting, but within the context of Antonioni it’s fairly enlightening. “Gente del Po” is a movie whose entire value comes from its style, and in contrast to the verite documentary style that’s best known, all of its shots are carefully composed. It’s remarkable how much the film in fact evokes Antonioni’s later works. Smoke across a river feels like a piece cut from Red Desert, while a gliding shot later in the film, with characters moving laterally while a camera pans to the side, could be pulled from nearly anything else he directed. His camera, in contrast to a lot of American documentaries at the time, not only doesn’t remain remotely still, but also gives us some canted angles and oddly-situated shots. With no real subject to constrain him, it’s a movie purely made for visual pleasure. The film’s narration in fact feels intrusive to something that perhaps should have been left as simply pictures and music. “Gente del Po” is a beautiful movie, with nearly as interesting visuals as his features, that also points to the direction his later films would take.