I'm not especially familiar with Bertolucci's storied career, having only seen Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor, and a handful of his more recent, less impressive films. With only this cursory familiarity with his work, La Commare Secca feels like an unusual debut, more indicative of Pasolini - who is credited with the story upon which the screenplay was based - than of Bertolucci himself. However, when you consider that Bertolucci was only 22 when he made this directorial debut (22!), it's less surprising that he had yet to establish a thematic or technical identity - and the film can certainly be appreciated on its own as a moderately enjoyable Rashomon-style mystery.
La Commare Secca revolves around the death of a prostitute, seen in the opening moments of the film as her body lies motionless in a park. The plot is a familiar one: the police interview suspects, who recount their story in flashbacks, leading the investigation from person to person and eventually circling back to the guilty party. None of the stories are especially different from the others in terms of facts, so the film is less about the arbitrary nature of perspective or the difficulty in arriving at one truth (as films of this nature so often are) and more straightforwardly thrust towards the final solution to the mystery in the style of a CBS procedural.
The movie can seem quite conventional when focusing exclusively on the plot or the story in 2011, but Bertolucci's exuberance and talent make the film oddly visually striking. I have to assume Gaspar Noe has seen and loved La Commare Secca, as the film certainly reads as a precursor to the reckless and much less graceful Irreversible. There are also nice touches that show a director interested not so much in narrative pull but in pacing and cinematic evocation, most notably the moments during the rain shower that links the stories together in which each narrator takes shelter from the storm. La Commare Secca is one of the less impressive films in the Collection when viewed as a standalone work, but like many other selections of a similar nature, it seems to have been included because it points a way forward for a budding talent of memorable stature.