The ’68 Comeback Special: Banditi A Milano
Continuing our trawl (Scout Tafoya & I) through the unscreened films in competition from the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, a project I share with Scout Tafoya of Apocalypse Now.
BANDITI A MILANO is an obscure polizzi directed by Carlo Lizzani, and it’s (to me, anyway) one of the more surprising selections in the ’68 line-up. Lizzani has some impressive credits (his 1967 spaghetti western REQUIESCANT, aka KILL AND PRAY, featuring PP Pasolini, is highly regarded), but is mainly a genre specialist, and the crime genre is usually not particularly respected at Cannes unless in the hands of the Americans. Lizzani is also one of the few directors from that line-up to be still alive AND working.
The movie begins as a mockumentary, and a not entirely convincing one. Tomas Milian as a youthful police commissioner with a long cigarette holder seems unable to pause convincingly to suggest extemporaneous speech. Then we meet a retired hood who can do that kind of thing brilliantly, and it becomes clear that stylistic consistency isn’t going to be the film’s strength… but then things get interesting…
With a sometimes-handheld look, Lizzani blunders about from anecdote to anecdote, seemingly attempting a kind of MONDO CANE portrait of criminal life in one Italian city. The glimpses into protection rackets etc don’t seem to offer any insights you couldn’t get from THE PUBLIC ENEMY, but the fast movement of the narrative is a compensation. There’s a bit about an aspiring female singer who gets abducted and set on fire, all set to swooning romantic music (by Riz Ortolani), thereby echoing the weird eros-thanatos admixture of the giallo genre. And then Gian Maria Volonte shows up as a bank robber and we settle into a longer story, and things get really quite interesting — (1) because this sweaty, lipless motormouth is a magnetically repulsive presence, tirelessly ranting, each phoneme jabbing like a stubby finger (2) because long stories have more room to engross than short ones and (c) because the very notion of beginning a film with a series of sketches and then lunging with no warning into a more developed storyline is a weird and interesting structural approach. So we award points for originality at least.
Then there’s an action climax at the one hour mark where VO introduces us to a cluster of civilians going about their separate business, all on a fatal collision course with the latest bank robbery — the novelistic device of sharing future knowledge with the audience is one too rarely used. The movie’s cynicism climaxes in a “happy” ending where justice is seen to be done but nobody in the audience is likely to be satisfied.
Volonte’s media-savvy crook isn’t quite as interesting as his paranoid cop in INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, but it’s a close thing. Likening his gang to the Beatles and Milan to “America in the thirties” — cue cars screeching through streets blasting at each other with tommy guns — he’s the kind of magnetic psychopath who spews out provocative statements he may not even believe, but which do occasionally contain food for thought. Lizzani’s movie is at least good enough to deserve a proper subtitled DVD — it’s the best polizzi I’ve seen, thought admittedly I haven’t enjoyed many examples of that thick-eared genre. Any other Italian cop-show recommendations?
Check out Scout’s previous entry here.