Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Un colpo di pistola, Renato Castellani, 1942

Like Freda's Aquila nera and Il cavaliere misterioso which were screened last year, Un colpo di pistola takes place in a decidedly pre-sovjet Russia, an airistocratic winter wonderland filled with powdered wigs, fickle women and lots of (dispensable) horse carriages. Castellani's film might in some level be a more modest affair, driven more by the narrative force of its literary source (Pushkin) than by pure spectacle. But it feels equally rich in detail - Castellani's use of objects is especially great, one early scene involving a telescope is nothing short of magnificent.

What is it with Russia and Italian cinema of the 1940s? (I don't know... but anyway:) When the protagonist, Anickoff, first sets eyes on the love of his life, Masha, she plays the piano in her living room and sings a song in her mother tongue - this song, which will return twice, is the only intrusion of the russian language in the whole film, the dialogue itself is in italian from beginning to end. This is the way Anickoff likes to see her: Put in her place, surrounded by other women, busy with producing ineffective and timeless art of the sort that is somehow enhanced by its unintelligibility. (Russia means: exotic adventures, beauty, melodrama - but no real consequences, no dialogue.)

For the most part of the film, Masha doesn't obey. She breaks out of the space/frame he had designated for her - in fact in some of the scenes she virtually floats through space, the camera refusing to anchor her in the ground. The scene with the telescope is one example, another one takes place at a picnic, in which Anickoff quickly looses control ... and not only of "the gaze", because the film is much more complex than that from the start. (In fact, in the very first scene, Anickoff himself becomes the object of a playful gaze when he is being seen on a frozen lake, skating away from the camera, towards dangerously thin ice... should we really call him back or should we do away with him from the start?)

In the end he will triumph anyway: she will sit again (and again: alone) at the piano, singing a song in russian, while the gate of his mansion finally openly announces his intentions of beeing her prison guard. One of many great things about Un colpo di pistola, though, is the lack of closure this faux happy end brings with it. The various lines of flight the film opens up between the first and the last piano scene aren't negated by the ending - in fact, for most of the time it seems that the patterns of repetition and variation, that make up the structure of the film, would be alltogether too complicated for a rather simple-minded maniac like Anickoff. His triumph in the end it isn't exactly by chance, of course, but it also isn't self-evident. And this changes everything (at least I think so... obviously I'll have to see this one again).

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