Sunday, August 4, 2013

MIFF Session 9: A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY: Giallo i Rosso

Celebrated artist Leonardo Ferri has painter's block and needs to quite the over technologised city for the peace of nature. Brushing aside the rudely commercial house suggested by his agent and ambitious journalist girlfriend, he goes back to the large decaying mansion down the road that he has seen in dreams and visions. Here there is quiet, he no longer has to cope with images of his own past work and the company of sycophants and might at least rest if not find new inspiration. There's also something else.

One of the walls outside is heavily pocked by holes from high powered bullets. These are from the strafing of an RAF plane during the war which damaged the wall but also killed the aristocratic daughter of the house Wanda. Leonardo pieces this together from the local gossips, the house's caretaker and anyone else with an opinion. One night he is woken by the sound of objects in his studio being violently hurled around the room. When girlfriend Flavia visits she literally feels the house does not like her when the section of floor she is standing on seems to pull her through the plaster. Leonardo gets on the case to contact Wanda's ghost and deliver her to peace.

That's the plot and it is given respectful substance. The haunting scenes are subtle and unsettling; this is no cheapo horror flick. The real haunting, though, is of Leonardo by himself. The further he gets into his investigations, which give him a muse when he locates a stash of photographs of Wanda and dives into some pretty impressive art, the closer he gets to his real problem: himself. 

As his visions, initially a series of pleasantly absurdist tableaux and dreamlike sketches turn harder he loses his ability to distinguish himself from what he is hearing or seeing. He listens to a villagers tell of a meeting with Wanda during the war. We see the teller of the tale appear on the dirt road, not as the younger man he was in the story but as Leonardo sees him now and then for a flash he substitutes himself for the man remembering. This continues in further flashbacks and Leonardo's own imaginings of the events of the tragedy of Wanda's death until at one point he is even poised sexually over himself where Wanda had been.

The extreme self-identification is narcissistic but also accusatory; Leonardo who stuffed his head with pornography in the city when creatively impotent creates his own in his now vibrantly refreshed imagination. What begins as a ghost story has become the progress of a nervous collapse or psychogenic fugue of the kind David Lynch would specialise in decades later with Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE.

Elio Petri's 1968 psycho thriller might begin as a kind of hamfisted critique on the artist as producer of consumables but it quite quickly shows its hand as an assured examination of where an artist like Leonardo might be taken by celebrity and marketability. The visions of narcissistic exhaustion are troubling and resonant.

Franco Nero in the lead with his neat facial hair and bright baby blues reminded me anachronistically of Kurt Cobain (or perhaps his portrayal in Gus Van Sant's Last Days). His performance is constantly soild and quite brave considering the long string of humiliations it involves. Vanessa Regrave, still fresh from Blow Up maintains an unsettling turn as a lover who might well be as parasitic as the art world aparatchicks that surround Leonardo in the city. Ennio Morricone's noise-workshop score prefigures his avant-garde work on Dario Argento's "animal trilogy".

But what really impresses here is the steady hand that prevents this from spinning off into the kind of meandering psychedelia of something like Wonderwall and keeps the course through Leonardo's dissociative nightmare to his emergence as the kind of popular artist the new consumerism would be most pleased with in the quietly extraordinary final scene. 

This appeared in the festival's program of Italian thriller films called gialli. It doesn't really qualify but boy am I glad they let it through. I'm not an advocate for celluloid purism and generally prefer a clean digital projection but it was enjoyable to see scratches and repair edits in this one. If this appears on blu-ray I'll snap it up. 

Screening notes: behind us to the right was a claque of that weird animal who buys the no longer cheap festival tickets to screenings apparently to incite an audience-wide mockery of them. I've suffered through this arch bullshit too often to consider it other than pretentious and cacklingly meaningless. Really, folks, that line of dubbed dialogue from that different era just aint that funny. I've heard the screening of Deep Red in this year's MIFF had the same kind of reaction. It's even there in the characteristically try hard joke in the festival trailer. Seriously, if you want to show how much you enjoy the feast of cinema in a cinema festival, enjoy it, don't broadcast how knowing and aloof you are because it always makes you look stridently clueless: dickheads!

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