DVD: Sack of Rome, The / Oro / Zoloto (1992)

December 29, 2013 | By

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Film: Good/ DVD Transfer: Good/ DVD Extras: Standard

Label: One 7 Movies / Region: 0 (NTSC) / Released: October 8, 2013

Genre: Historical Drama / Erotica

Synopsis: A renowned painter must cope with repeated humiliations after an invading Germanic force invades his town and takes over his home and lover in 1527 Italy.

Special Features: Stills Gallery.




Franco Nero took a gamble in this historical drama, a rare Russian-Italian co-production, and he largely succeeded in playing Gabriele de Poppi, a highly regarded painter / sculptor whose foolish belief that artists will be respected and safe from the brutality of an invading German force results in the mass raping of his lover Gesuina (Vittoria Belvedere), the murder of her twin brother, and his own incarceration during the spring of 1527.

Walking the same line between drama, physical and sexual brutality, and exploitive nudity in Paul Verhoeven’s own Medieval sadofest Flesh + Blood (1985), Oro is perhaps a more satisfying variation in the despots-who-defile-nobility genre because writer / director Fabio Bonzi balances the politics of religious leaders and their enormous egos with the ground-level brutality of hired mercenaries who transform a civic environment into utter carnage.

Bonzi offers up a little gore – a cannonball decapitation is perhaps unintentionally funny because of the sheer absurdity of such a clean shot – but the more intriguing aspects to this borderline exploitive production (which clearly took some inspiration from Caligula’s rampant nudity and sex scenes) are the psychological battles and shifting levels of complacency among its central characters.

De Poppi’s naivete in believing he’ll be unaffected by the occupying force moves him from a place of privilege to a virtual slave being led through town by a thuggish Captain (Aleksandr Abdulov), and forced to watch his love be repeatedly gang-raped before she settles on becoming the Captain’s ‘love’ to survive the occupation long enough before she can exact a little bloody revenge. The Captain also changes from a greasy, unmannered thug to the villa’s self-appointed master, attired in gilded dress and forcing de Poppi to craft a portrait in which the thug is transformed into a seated king, with his obedient queen seated by his feet.

The leader of the invading German force – ironically, the Pope’s cousin – attempts to maintain decorum in front of de Poppi, but his influence is more managerial than absolute, since he realizes the only way to keep his band of despots content is to let them ravage the city, exhaust their unspent energy, and decompress. Rome’s Pope remains safely ensconced behind citadel walls, and when a resolution is finally brokered, the emphasis is on monetary compensation for destruction rather than human lives.

De Poppi’s situation improves somewhat by the film’s midpoint, yet he too undergoes an emotional transformation, abandoning grant poetic statements of art in favour of dour imagery of corruption, and instead of a formal portrait of the Captain and his queen, de Poppi crafts an organic depiction of a fleshy flower from Hell. (The painting is always glimpsed in part but never fully revealed, which is a disappointment for viewers.)

The problem with Oro is a rather uneven tone that results from a mélange of operatic acting, cynical dialogue, grievous emotional and physical trauma, and the clearly exploitive material in which pretty Belvedere exposes herself and writhes in revolting rape scenes filmed from her POV, but later gyrates like a pleased concubine in the film’s prolonged sex scenes. Perhaps Bonzi, a former art director, wanted a marriage of exploitation and political critique, but the grungy elements tend to overshadow the film’s genuine virtues.

He’s also a novice in arranging kinetic scenes, and although this is a beautifully detailed production, the camera angles in several action scenes are often a few degrees off, rendering combat footage a little phony. Bonzi’s forte lies in slow camera movements, tracking in and around de Poppi’s loft-styled villa, and in the contrast between its ornate décor and the chaos after the thugs have smashed much to bits.

There’s also a pair of strange nightmare sequences: de Poppi is tormented by badly backlit visions in his home; and guilt from a young girl murder literally transforms an older thug into a fetid man, physically scarring him before collapses in bed after her ghost appears in a hazy vision.

One 7 Movies’ well-worn fullscreen source features the longer Italian version (the Russian cut runs 85 mins.). The amber hues of Mikhail Agranovich’s elegant cinematography still come through, but this isn’t the most ideal print source. The film was either filmed in 1.33:1, or composed for home video and cable TV exhibition, as everything remains snugly within the TV safe realm. The mono mix is adequate, and Tommaso Vittorini’s score is most successful when it stays away from heavy bombast (generally reserved for the Germanic rape-and-pillage theme).

Besides a stills gallery, there are no liner notes detailing the curious history of this co-production, nor its charismatic cast, and the DVD’s cover shot isn’t illustrative of Nero’s character (and may be a stock shot from a different period film).

Fabio Bonzi’s only other effort as writer-director is Eden / Casa Eden (2004). Vittoria Belvedere soon drifted to several TV productions, but she later co-starred with Nero in the 1996 TV series The Return of Sandokan / Il ritorno dei Sandokan (1996).



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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