Dir: Marco Ferreri
Viewed: From The Balcony
Part 3 of a series on old and random films playing for 2 euros in Brussels.
It isn't often that one returns from a double feature thinking "Hmm, the Lynch movie was good, but wow, that other movie was strange."
But so it was last week, as the master's Wild at Heart was forced to play second fiddle in the WTF department to Il Futuro e Donna (The Future is Woman) by Italian provocateur/director Marco Ferreri. Ferreri apparently was quite the strange and notable director in the 60s and 70s - racking up some awards in Berlin and Cannes - but I was completely unfamiliar with his work. Maybe Sean knows about La Grande Bouffle, where four men have a pact to eat one another, or The Ape Woman, which needs no description, but this came as a complete shock.
A pleasant shock though, as Il Futuro e Donna was delightfully free of cannibalism, sado-masochism, misogyny, or any of the other number of themes that seem to be a recurrent feature of Ferreri's oeuvre. Instead we have a story of three people - Malvina, Anna, and Gordon - trying their best to live like a family. Malvina, in her teens and pregnant, meets husband and wife Gordon and Anna at an end-of-the-world 80s nightclub in Italy as she is being dragged off by some thugs. Anna talks the guys out of whatever plan they had, and invites Malvina back to the couple's beautiful bohemian apartment. From here, things get strange, as the subtle hints of sexual attraction in every possible permutation are alluded to. What happens from here involves some spoilers, but the action among the three is intense, moreso emotionally than physically (although there is also plenty of the latter).
So, what to talk about? Well, for starters, how about seeing 2007 Couchie Award nominee Hannah Schygulla in hot spandex and Bride of Frankenstein hair. Doing her best Eastern European Darryl Hannah, Schygulla is fantastic in the movie as Anna, propping up the two lesser actors in the threesome (Another empty-eyed innocent Ornella Muti and the pudgy, often emasculated Niels Arestrup). Unable to conceive herself, Anna takes on the young Malvina as her own child, as the bearer of a child, and also as a lover. The range of emotions runs from passion to rage to stoicism and Schygulla is perfect at every one. Based on now seeing her in only two roles (well, maybe three...as I think I did see (gulp) Delta Force), she is my favorite actress of all time.
But I'll save my Schygulla love for the 2008 Couchies; back to to Ferreri. Like a lot of 60s/70s countercultural auteurs, Ferreri is long on ideas and putting very interesting visuals in front of the camera, but short on innovative technique. For a major critical award winner, his opening and closing shots are just brutal, weakly framed still shots of the nightclub and a shopping mall. There appeared to be little thought into where to set the frame, like it was just something to have up while the opening and closing credits rolled - it would not have looked out of place at all two minutes in the movie to see three little heads in the lower right hand corner. The crushing theme music can be forgiven - this was 1984 after all - but I was almost ready to leave a few minutes.
As the movie's narrative picks up steam, however, the force of the characters overwhelms the critical faculties and you are hardly ever aware there is a camera, as Ferreri manages to be intimate while limiting odd or forced close-ups (there are a few doozies though, mostly Ferreri lingering on Muti's expressionless and insanely beautiful eyes). For someone with such outlandish ideas, he was incredibly subtle behind the camera. I'm avoiding giving too much description - the futurist revolutionary side plot, the giant heads, the naked guy playing the recorder, the mass stampede at a new age concert, etc. - because it would make the movie seem out of control, but basically all of these elements are incorporated into a fairly normal story about three people trying to find love or some kind of connection in (sorry) a cruel cruel world.
Ferreri was quoted once saying that all the standard bourgeois values were gone, and that "my films are reactions (to this) translated into images." Unlike Bunuel, however, Ferreri didn't (at least in Il Futuro e Donna) just laugh off this radical change, or skewer it's victims, but instead tried to show how real people can go about creating new values, new arrangements, and a new world. He might have been wrong about the old values coming to an end, and maybe too optimistic about the possibilities of three-way relationships, but he deserves a lot of credit for an honest and sincere approach to telling this story. I'm of course still a fan of the completely detached and allegorical style (Wild at Heart was much enjoyed 20 minutes after this one), but Ferreri's realism was, strangely, refreshing.