Tuesday, 19 May 2020
Dir: Carlo Lizzani
The sole survivor of a genocidal massacre, a young Requiescant is taken in by a devoutly religious family and raised alongside their daughter Princy, travelling the west in a covered wagon. When Princy leaves to pursue a life of glamour on the stage Requiescant sets out to find her and soon discovers he has a natural talent with a pistol. Finding Princy has been lured into a world of forced prostitution he tries to rescue her and comes face to face with the perpetrator of his family's slaughter.
Requiescant was Carlo Lizzani's second and final western and instantly appears a more personal project for him than The Hills Run Red, released the previous year. The earlier film has a much more classical American western feel to it and Lizzani's credit is solely as director. In contrast, on Requiescant he acted as producer too and collaborated with friends who shared his left wing politics to make a film which allowed him to explore themes closer to home. Lizzani is on record as saying the film acted as a metaphor for land reform issues in the south of Italy and the parallels are clear as the Mexicans are looked down on and ill-treated by their northern masters (albeit these masters are Southern in their American context) and the denouement suggests an ongoing struggle rather than a clear-cut happy ending.
Metaphors however, are all very well but the question for the viewer is more clear. Does the film work in and of itself as a western and as a piece of cinematic entertainment? Happily, the answer for me is yes, albeit with some reservations.
First among the film's strengths is the performance of Mark Damon in the role of Confederate aristocrat George Bellow Ferguson. Damon made a career in Italian westerns playing clean-cut, gun-slinging heroes armed with a gleaming set of teeth as well as unerring pistols but here he is offered the opportunity to play against type and the result is something of a revelation. Pale-faced and Gothic, there are traces of his days in the Edgar Alan Poe films of Roger Corman. Given full rein to unleash Ferguson's egotism and megalomania he is a tour de force, quickly becoming the most memorable element of the film. Ferguson is supremely confident in his own supremacy. He speaks with the calmness of someone convinced of the indisputable 'rightness' of his philosophy and opinions. When this 'rightness' is challenged or exposed however, he descends rapidly into histrionic rage and the facade of his confidence is exposed. All this makes for a fine, if somewhat obvious villain and his scenes are some of the most enjoyable in the film.
But the central focus of the film is, of course, the eponymous Requiescant and this character is somewhat more problematic. Lou Castel is fine in the part and embodies the mix of innocence and determination required. It is the character itself which is the main problem. In a left wing metaphor for the struggle of the down-trodden against powerful autocrats it is odd to have a protagonist who is offered essentially as the hand of God, sent to liberate the people. How else can a bible reading, corpse blessing hero who never learns to shoot but has a simply miraculous gift for it be described? Requiescant's uncanny skill at shooting surprises him as much as anyone else and he seems to glide through the film simply accepting it as an unfathomable reality however at odds it is with everything else about him. In every other way it is his innate clumsiness which stands forth. He is continuously dropping his hat or fumbling with something. His pistol is worn slung knee-high on a rope belt and turned so far back as to be behind rather than beside him. And yet, when the need arises, he is able to outdraw anyone in the blinking of an eye. Even in a genre as full of unbelievable gun skills as the Spaghetti Western Requiescant stands out as exceptional. And yet, call me naive if you like, as the story unfolds I found myself forgiving this failing and just going with it. Because, for all its faults, (and there are plenty more) the film is an ultimately enjoyable one with some truly standout scenes.
Primary among these for me is the showdown with blonde bad guy (and obvious love interest for Ferguson) Dean Light and Requiescant played out as a shooting/hanging game in the saloon. The game is a nice twist on the gun duel and allows for a build up of tension against the ticking clock as well as an effective climax skilfully handled with the twitching feet of the loser a nice alternative to the usual death throw theatrics. Likewise, the final showdown with Ferguson shows Lizzani to be an inventive and satisfying orchestrator of generic requirements.
To sum up, I can only say that Requiescant is patchy but ultimately enjoyable. It clearly suffers from a restricted budget. The opening scenes with fake cactus and a plaster and cardboard looking Aztec fortress in a gravel pit being a prime example. The central conceipt of the young hero's inexplicable prowess with a gun is difficult to swallow and the script in places is poor. But it's strengths eventually overcome these failings. The performances of the principles are all strong and the set pieces are all handled well by Lizzani. We also get a unique appearance in the genre from Pier Paolo Passolini, some strong if all too brief performances from the female characters including one from Mark Damon's future wife, Barbara Frey and another from ever reliable Luisa Baratto. Add to this a strong score from the great Riz Ortolani and the overall package is undoubtedly strong enough to keep all but the most unforgiving genre fan plenty to enjoy.
I've seen this film numerous times but most recently via the Arrow BluRay release and I can only recommend this release highly as the best possible option. The picture and sound quality is superb and the extra features which include interviews with Lizzani and Lou Castel interesting and informative. For info and links for all DVD and BluRay releases of this film in your region see the dedicated page at the Spaghetti Western Database here.
Posted by Son of Django at 14:46
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