Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Italian film festival at the VIFF: The Mercenary, Pasolini

So there's an interesting opportunity: the Vancity theatre is screening Sergio Corbucci's The Mercenary as part of their Italian film festival, opening this weekend. It's interesting for a whole raft of reasons.

1. One of the writers involved was no less than Franco Solinas, who, besides writing or co-writing almost every notable Gillo Pontecorvo film, including Burn! and The Battle of Algiers, has a very wide-ranging and interesting resume, including projects undertaken with Nicholas Ray (his very entertaining Inuit drama The Savage Innocents), Costa-Gavras (Hanna K, Stage of Siege), Francesco Rosi (Salvatore Guiliano), and Joseph Losey (Monsieur Klein). He also co-authored various other notable spaghetti westerns, including Quien Sabe?/ A Bullet for the General, Tepepa, and The Big Gundown. His spaghettis link directly to his more serious work, thematically, mulling questions about the difference between a criminal and a revolutionary, and asking when and if a bandit's actions can be seen as having political meaning. That's the whole point of the Rosi film I mentioned, but is also very much present in The Mercenary - so it's an idea-rich political spaghetti western; you can't appreciate Solinas work without having seen it.

2. There are some great performances in it, especially Tony Musante as a Mexican bandit/ revolutionary, who outshines Franco "Django" Nero, the title character, a Polish hired gun. There's also Jack Palance in a fairly special role. Remember how his character in City Slickers was called Curly, with no explanation given? He certainly didn't have any curls in that film. Well, it's probably some geek's insider reference to The Mercenary, where he plays (if memory serves) a gay gambler/ gangster/ dandy with curly hair, whose nickname, indeed, is also Curly. He's fairly nasty in this as a bad guy - and he gets a nude scene, if anyone out there wants to see Jack Palance's ass (I personally did not, but who knew he did nude scenes?).
3. The filmmaker, Sergio Corbucci, is considered a hero of the spaghetti western form, perhaps the most praised filmmaker under Sergio Leone. That reputation, to be honest, rests on better films - my favourites of his classic period are Django, The Great Silence,  and The Hellbenders. But this is a significant film in the canon. (Edited to add): Quentin Tarantino ranks it as his fourth favourite spaghetti of all time. And it does have more than its share of ideas and entertaining moments; it's just a bit uneven...

I mean, okay, to be totally honest (sorry Tom), The Mercenary is possibly my least favourite Corbucci (and I've seen Super Fuzz!). It's definitely my least favourite project involving Solinas. I think someone should restore / screen Tepepa, frankly, which eats this film for breakfast (and features Orson Welles in brownface, as a corrupt Mexican cop, as well as Marat/ Sade's John Steiner and the great Tomas Milian as the revolutionary/ bandit in question there). But when was the last time a Solinas spaghetti screened in Vancouver? I sure can't remember it! And if you care about Solinas, political exploitation films, or like the taste of spaghettis in general, you will find LOTS to like, amidst the clunky bits.
What else can I plug? I liked Love and Anarchy, but have no vivid memories of it. Film devotees will further want to catch Abel Ferrara's film about (Pier Paolo) Pasolini, with Willem Dafoe in the lead role, while they can... or, say, Pasolini's Arabian Nights. Incidentally, a little bird tells me that there will be a screening sometime soon, outside the festival, of Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom. Oh, and for spaghetti fans, make sure to hunt down the DVD of Requiescant: Kill and Pray. It's also not the best spaghetti I've seen - but Pasolini ACTS in it! Yep!

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