Film: Quiet Place in the Country, A / Un tranquillo posto di campagna (1968)

January 27, 2014 | By

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Film: Excellent / DVD Transfer: n/a / DVD Extras:  n/a

Label:  n/a / Region: n/a  / Released: n/a

Genre: Psychological Thriller / Horror

Synopsis:  A celebrated painter headed for an epic burnout retreats to a crumbling country villa, and slowly loses grasp of reality.

Special Features:  n/a

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Review:

Elio Petri’s foray into horror-suspense is a highly experimental work where sound, image, and performances are chopped up and spread about in fragments, layers, and spurts of action little slivers of rest periods.

Derived from a screenplay by Petri, Luciano Vincenzoni (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s main scribe Tonino Guerra (Blow Up), A Quiet Place in the Country concerns celebrated modern painter Leonardo Ferri (Franco Nero), burnt out and in need of inspiration, who convinces his wealthy girlfriend Flavia (Vanessa Redgrave) to buy a weathered and largely abandoned country villa where he can escape, paint, and hopefully meet her quota of paintings so the two can feed the need of collectors and galleries, and subsist from the predicted revenues.

The subtext is clear: Ferri is tired of being commoditized by everyone and wants out, and when finally free from Flavia’s not necessarily unreasonable demands to deliver, his mind enters a state of prolonged blankness. Inspiration soon comes from a peculiar tale of a town trollop machine-gunned by Allied planes outside of the villa’s compound, and the many men who slept with the alluring creature thirty years earlier. As he becomes obsessed with the dead girl, Ferri finds himself drawn to abusive and murderous thoughts, and it’s either a case where he’s losing grasp with reality, or is in fact haunted by the ghosts that still walk in and around the rambling villa.

How the film ultimately ends, including Ferri’s fate, are cleverly arranged in spite of what seems like an anarchic editorial style; this is a rare case where an assaultive style, a seemingly jumbled filmmaking technique, and morsels of character and narrative substance manage to coexist and make sense.

Petri’s sense of humour is also very dry and morbid, but the film doesn’t mock its characters. However weird Ferri and Flavia’s relationship may be (she’s unusually forgiving of his verbal and physical abuse; he’s comfortable playing performance art in the film’s wild opening that may be a dream or extravagant recollection of a kinky evening), they’re still sympathetic characters, and there’s the mounting mystery of what the film is all about that keeps viewers intrigued – assuming one is also patient with Petri’s experimental design.

It’s also fascinating to see Nero in what was for him an atypical role – Ferri is neither a cowboy (Texas, Adios), detective (Ring of Death), nor terrorist (Die Hard 2) but an insanely driven artist tormented by that which burns within his being – or a madness he voluntarily stokes because it more often then not creates art.

Ferri’s jealously, rage, flirtations with (and groping) other women, addiction to porn, and adoration of pornographic imagery are sometimes pushed into the grotesque, but he seems to know when to step back, relying on an internal bimetallic strip that clicks at just the right moment and has him slapping paint and patterns on a fresh blank canvas.

Petri’s painting montages are amazingly for their economy and artistry: images explode, fracture, and dissipate onscreen like Ferri’s busy hands when he’s using paintbrushes, pot lids, sponges, or human beings.

A longtime editor for Frederic Fellini, the prolific Rugerro Mastroianni also cut Fellini’s stellar “Toby Dammit” sequence in the chilling horror anthology Spirits of the Dead (1968), but Quiet is more typical of a Godard aesthetic, which contemporary Tinto Brass similarly embraced during his experimental phase by playing with clichés, narratives, audience expectations, and blendering the results in films like The Howl (1970). If Godard’s approach was to interrupt the progress of a genre’s tropes, Petri seemed to borrow the techniques of cinematic anarchy – in editing, zoom-happy photography, colour, superimpositions – and apply them to his narrative.

Ferri’s behaviour could be seen as consistent throughout the film; it’s just specific triggers than sends him into a deeply obsessive state. He’s prone to verbal and physical outburst, sulking, lurid gazing that’s unhindered by his target’s discomfort; and spontaneous eccentricities (painting estate trees blood red) which servants and workers may criticize, but carry out because ‘he is after all a painter.’

Perhaps linking together Petri’s visual assaults is Ennio Morricone’s score which was composed for and performed by the Guppo di improvvisazione nuova consonanza (of which he was a member). Sonic gnashing from chamber instruments and objects is the norm, as are those intersecting and uneasy chords which would become de rigueur in his 1980s crime thrillers.

When there is something melodic, it’s almost mocking Ferri, elevating his mad behaviour into the realm of absurdity. (A major highlight is Ferri’s furious drive through the city before stopping by a clinic where he sees Flavia, dressed as a nurse, wheeling his double to a waiting car. Ferri then screeches off in his car to a porn vendor, snatches up smut magazines, and scrutinizes the lot on a sloping countryside knoll while devouring a sandwich.)

Redgrave had already appeared with future husband Nero in Camelot (1967), and in Quiet her character expresses her artistry through her attire and sleek comportment; and regardless of whatever social blunder Ferri may have caused, she fixes things, says a good word, swoops him away from the spotlight and puts him back when it’s safe – all while attired in exquisitely stylish clothes and colours which haven’t severely dated. She’s a professional investor, art curator and handler; her sexuality is also overheated, but it’s kept in check and reserved for private moments with Ferri.

Cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller (Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Andy Warhol’s Dracula, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, Profondo Rosso) captures Redgrave’s beauty and the madness of Nero’s Ferri with beautiful colours and sweeping camera gestures, and it’s amazing to watch some of the lengthy takes in which the focus sometimes volleys between a multitude of onscreen characters.

Although Petri’s next film, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) would win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, much of his work would remain tough to find on video, excepting his cult film The 10th Victim (1965). At present, Quiet is only available in North America as an MOD title from MGM, whereas it’s received proper DVD releases in Europe.

The version reviewed here is the Italian dub which has Nero doing his voice, and Redgrave (who said her lines in English) dubbed by an Italian actress; the only time English is heard is as background chatter at a country villa party. Because the dialogue, like the edits, is rapid fire, Quiet may mandate a second viewing – one to read the fast-moving subtitles, and twice to absorb Petri’s film and appreciate its visuals.

An exceptional (and very strange) film screaming for a Blu-ray release, Quiet was reportedly originally released in mono; the DVD sound mix of this transfer is a blend of mono and periodic stereo in which music and key sounds bleed into a stereo image for short periods. Ennio Morricone also worked with the Gruppo for Enzo Castellari’s Cold Eyes of Fear (1971), and aspects of Morricone’s sometimes screeching experimental sounds were frequently used in his classic giallo scores during this period.

Redgrave and Nero would appear together in another pair of Italian films directed by Tinto Brass: the still-unavailable Dropout (1970), and La vacanza (1971).

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© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

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