Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Cinema Ritrovato 2014: Freda

„Every self-respecting bandit longs to be romantic and mysterious“, says Vladimir Dubrovskij, the hero of Riccardo Freda's early masterpiece Aquila nera. This is not only a great line in itself, it might also serve as a key to all characters in Freda's films: In a way, all of them are self-respecting, no matter their particular occupation. Especially bad guys, and even very weak characters, like the beyond stupid emperor in Teodora, imperatrice di Bisanzio: He is weak in a decidedly self-respecting way, if only because he constantly feels the need to articulate his stupidity, his gullibility. Freda's characters aren't just victims to, or objects of a narrative drive external to themselves: never just bandists, always self-respecting bandits. The „outer agenda“ of the intricate plotting is always matched (complemented? complicated?) by the respective inner agendas of the heroes, antagonists, love interests, sidekicks etc.

In a way, all of Freda's characters are free to choose – and constantly choosing. There's a freedom of choice, but that doesn't mean that there's a freedom to stop choosing: there's hardly an outside to the World Of Intruige the films are set in, and if there is one, it's almost always unreachable. Maybe Casanova's final crossing of a piazza in Il cavaliere misterioso, his vanishing into the everyday flow of passersby while the camera doesn't follow him like before, doesn't keep pace with him, might be read this way – but then again: in the last seconds of the shot – and the film - the doves in the foreground spread their wings, fly into the sky, thereby forming a dynamic cloud that once again shatters all sense of the everyday. Maybe Casanova really did escape. We won't.

If you are (completely) free to choose, you can choose your identity. Freedom of choice means freedom to playact. There's never a danger of Dubrovskij losing himself behind the mask of bandit, the glasses of the French teacher. In a way, freedom and playacting are one and the same, because there's no source of identity outside of the self. So, again: once you've entered the realm of playacting, there's no way to stop playacting. When Dubrovskij reenters the narrativ as Dubrovskij (after effortless switching between bandit and French teacher), he doesn't unmask himself - he puts on another mask (respectively, to the same effect, a brown military hat).


Freda's cinema is a cinema of decor. But not of decor = pleasing to the eye, but of decor as alienation (from social function, milieu, nature). The characters enter the opulent hallways with glittering chandeliers, the sleeping chambers in the palaces of kings, the synthetic, colorfull, painterly Inferno of the delirious Maciste all'Inferno exactly like we do: not necessarily afraid, but estranged, sceptical (in Aquila nera, Dubrovskij feels alienated even in his own home). Just to be asking, over and over again: "And now what? Bring it on..."

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