War & Piece

Not my appalling title, Mel Brooks’, seen on a movie poster in THE PRODUCERS.

I’m reading Inside Mr. Enderby by Anthony Burgess, in which the hapless and flatulent poet of the title finds his latest epic work plagiarized for an Italian horror film — an unlikely occurrence, one might think, but very, very loosely paralleled in my latest Bologna viewing, DONNE E SOLDATI, which employed the poet and film critic Attilio Bertolucci (father of Bernardo), as an ill-defined “artistic advisor.”

Exactly what role AB played is hard to say, but the film, the only one deirected by the team of Antonio Marchi and Luigi Malerba, is fascinating and borderline delightful. Let me enumerate the reasons ~

  1. An interesting story of medieval times, portraying the seasons-long seige of a citadel, during which the fraternization between the beseiged women and the beseiging men reaches such a passionate height that the conflict is eventually resolved.
  2. A distinctive way of telling the story: two voice-overs, one from each side, neither particularly identified with a character onscreen, both talking retrospectively as if from years later.
  3. Fantastic period detail, so convincing that when I saw the injured leader of the invaders (instantly dehorsed in his first battle, elaborate batwinged armour and all) with a leg in traction, I immediately accepted that the filmmakers had done their research and such bonesetting techniques were extant at the time.
  4. Convincing conflict: sharp editing makes the dummies dropped from battlements seem unusually convincing, even if we still know they’re dummies. And when the knights and peasants in the fort charge their enemies, we get a prefiguration of Welles’ great Battle of Shrewsbury in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT — handheld lurch and undercranking and all. It’s a tenth as long and not a hundredth as good but it’s pretty impressive all the same, and one wonders if Welles might have seen it. Still, the shakicam approach to middle-ages warfare goes all the way back to LA VIE DE JEANNE D’ARC in 1929.

We also get a fat man in armour, looking like a tank with legs, peeking fearfully round corners, which is very Falstaffian…

Asides from Bertolucci Sr.’s contribution, the movie was co-written by Marco Ferreri, who also appears (but I didn’t spot him) — some of his cynical wit is transmitted to us, though the movie is also tender and chivalric towards the women — the bitter realities of war are kept somewhat at bay.

This excellent film has seemingly fallen out of the history books altogether — of the extensive cast, the IMDb can only name six, with character names for just half of them. Il Cinema Ritrovato deserves a roast suckling pig as reward for rediscovering it.

4 Responses to “War & Piece”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    The “Must See” Medieval Italian Epic is Mario Monicelli’s “L’Amarta Bracaleone” with Vittorio Gassman and Barbara Steele.

  2. The programme notes identify this as a possible precursor of L’Armata. But it has its own distinct personality, serious at heart with sentiment and wit on top. It could easily have fallen into King of Hearts whimsy, but skilfully skirts that.

  3. I’m generally there for medieval anything, but damn this looks good.

    And OMG Enderby and Enderby II. Those books are n-grammed in as only books that you read when you’re a little too young for them can be. There were lots of AB (not Attilio Bertolucci) paperbacks in my ancestral castle.

  4. Hopefully this obscurity, now splendidly restored, can turn up on MUBI with a Ferreri retrospective or something.

    I’ve skipped to Enderby III now for Burgess’s Clockwork Orange thoughts, but will skip back to II, I expect.

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