Archive for Carlo Lizzani

The ’68 Comeback Special: I Protagonisti

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2014 by dcairns

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While the Brits deluged Cannes ’68 with swinging psychedelic romps, the Italians seemed to specialize in genre films with political subtexts — certainly the late Carlo Lizzani (he took a header off his balcony, aged 91, shortly after I wrote an appreciation of his BANDITI A MILANO and commented approvingly on the longevity of his career) was fond of tying social commentary to thriller or western stories, and something similar seems to have animated Marcello Fondato, director and co-author (with the great Ennio Flaiano, Fellini’s regular writer up until EIGHT AND A HALF) when he made I PROTAGONISTI.

A group of tourists in Sardinia is invited, for a substantial fee, to drive into the wilderness and meet a real bandit. The thrill-starved modern civilized types can’t wait to pose for photographs with this exotic barbarian, so they pile into a car and take to the hills, followed without their knowledge by the local police commissar and a zealous division of troops, all hoping to take down the districts most wanted man, and more or less happy to use the dumb tourists as bait.

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All of this is curious enough, decently shot amid parched landscapes, and jauntily scored by Luis Bacalov, and with an attractive cast impersonating the unattractive, shallow characters, who might be more at home in a giallo, where they could get sliced to pieces for our amusement. Sylva Koscina and Pamela Tiffin provide female glamour, and Jean Sorel the male side. Lou Castel, the hunky bandit, is a man who would have had a busy Cannes if either of his two entries (this and GRAZIE, ZIA, previously reviewed in horror by Scout) had actually screened.

Fondato was one of several directors who had they debut feature scheduled to screen at Cannes — one does rather sympathise with those who protested that it was all very well for Godard and Truffaut to try to shut down the festival — they’d already had their careers launched. Fondato managed six more features, mostly comedies (classy affairs, featuring Claudia Cardinale, Monica Vitti and, er, Terence Hill & Bud Spencer).

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If I PROTAGONISTI isn’t ultimately as striking and impressive as it means to be, it’s perhaps because the shallow characters remain protagonists — they don’t implicate the audience, since we can feel comfortably superior to them at all times. Pam Tiffin plays an “independent woman” proud of relying on no man, but she’s borrowed the money from one of the others in order to make this trip. There’s sexual tension galore as all the men want to seduce both the women. Corrupt business practices are suggested in the background of one character. It doesn’t quite add up to a cross-section of the modern malaise, but you sense that’s the intention.

Still, the picture moves well, with typical Italian flare, and one set-piece, a headlong downhill foot chase, is both gripping and powerfully dynamic — the sheer unflagging momentum and duration have you wondering how much more intense can this possibly get, how much longer can it possibly go on?

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The ’68 Comeback Special: Banditi A Milano

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2013 by dcairns

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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.

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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?

vlcsnap-2013-09-12-13h28m51s77Check out Scout’s previous entry here.