Archive for July 9, 2022

Church and State

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2022 by dcairns

OK, I’m on a Damiano Damiani kick now, so impressed was I by BULLET FOR THE GENERAL. And having liked IL STREGHE in the past. Encountering him via his unsuccessful collaboration with Leone was a false start, and misleading — he’s not a sub-Leone figure like Tonino Valerii, he’s his own artist, which is why they couldn’t work together. I’ll postpone his mafiosi and politziotteschi films a bit as I hoover up some outliers.

THE TEMPTER aka THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN aka IL SORRISO DEL GRANDE TENTATORE (1974) seemed like it was going to be a consolation prize for Glenda Jackson walking away from THE DEVILS after finding out the scene where Sister Jeanne’s severed head is worshipped after her death had been cut from the script, or an EXORCIST knock-off (the first?). It was a sensational, nutzoid Ennio Morricone score which does give it a groovy exploitation feel, but as often with this filmmaker, there’s something else going on.

What it really resembles most is ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. But Jackson’s Sister Geraldine is, though quietly malevolent, also a more complex and sympathetic character than dead-eyed psycho Nurse Ratched, and Damiani’s film eschews misogyny. Sister G is running a hideway for problematic persons — a Polish priest who collaborated with the Nazis, a Prince in love with his own sister, a Bolivian woman who arranged her torturer husband’s assassination, a Cuban priest too sympathetic to communism. Forbidden by the church from conducting confessions, she exerts her power through vicious group therapy sessions…

Claudio Cassinelli is an interloper, a young writer hired to help the Pole (Arnoldo Foà) with his exculpatory memoir. Sister Geraldine comes to regard him as the tempter… we may have similar suspicions of her. In fact, the only quasi-supernatural element is a shadow glimpsed in the chapel at a fraught moment.

Designed by Umberto Turco, the film looks amazing (but badly needs a restoration/transfer) mostly confined to this weird marble living tomb — a good self-isolation movie if you need one. Damiani had been a designer himself, and one way the film does resemble THE DEVILS is in its look — specifically it reminds me of the papal library, ironically one of the few location scenes in that film — Derek Jarman repurposed what was actually a prison.

THE TEMPTER stars Gudrun Brangwen; Jesus; Lizzie Kavanaugh; Emilio Largo; Johnny Spanish; Inspector A; Federico Arturo Von Homburg; and Goya.

THE INQUIRY aka L’INCHIESTA (1987) has a plot that sounds like a good airport novel: in the early years of persecuted Christianity, a Roman consul is tasked with locating the missing body of Christ. Soon put a stop to this resurrection nonsense. And the story is by two greats, Ennio Flaiano (EIGHT AND A HALF) and Suso Cecchi D’Amico (THE LEOPARD).

Keith Carradine is Tito Valerio Tauro and Harvey Keitel is Pilate. A year later he would be Judas for Scorsese. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride… Phyllis Logan is Mrs. Pilate and Sal Borgese turns up to add an echo of spaghetti western days.

It’s a riveting detective drama with a classical history setting. “Ay, Jesus, whaddaya doin’ makin’ crosses for da Romans?” is how a friend caricatured Keitel’s performance in LAST TEMPTATION. It never bothered me, the American accents. Carradine seems to sense that his Californian drawl could be a problem, and tries to smuggle in some Anglo vowels, which is mostly distracting. He still pronounces “stupidly” as “stoopidly.”

A good rule might have been to cast Americans as Romans and Italians as everyone else, but things get a bit mixed up. It doesn’t really do to get religious about these things: cast good actors in roles that suit them and all will be well.

As the investigation goes on, things get intriguing — could Christ have faked his own death? — the Laughing Jesus Heresy (my favourite!) is hinted at, and a miraculous catalepsy-inducing drug is tested — then things get crazy and mystical. Damiani, a Marxist apparently, is perhaps mainly interested in how old power structures can be destabilised by new ideas — Tiberius is right to be worried! — but the Bible stories still exert a hold. Travelling into the wilderness at risk of his life — deep undercover — Keithus Carradinus is at first mistaken for the Messiah — shades of LIFE OF BRIAN — and then momentarily becomes convinced he IS him. Offers to cure a leper or two. “What am I saying? get away from me!”

THE INQUIRY stars Will Rogers; Judas; Lady Jane Felsham; Lucky Luciano; Anna Magnani; Messala; and Henchman.