Sunday, October 30, 2016

Blu-ray and DVDebut from Film Movement: Ettore Scola's UGLY, DIRTY & BAD

Italian filmmaker Ettore Scola, who died earlier this year, was a director (42 films) and screenwriter (87 credits) who is probably best-known critically in this country for his unusual 1981 film, Passion of Love (upon which Stephen Sondheim based one of his lesser works, Passion) and popularly for his Mastroianni/Loren collaboration, the Oscar-nominated A Special Day. With his 1976 would-be comedy/satire/ neo-realist endeavor, UGLY, DIRTY & BAD, this filmmaker broke surprising new ground.

The result, however, mostly stinks. The film is one of those let's-see-how-gross-we-can-make-things movies that wants to simultaneously show us, while making fun of, the lowest-of-the-low-class. And while, of course, there's some truth to what we see -- and in Italy, with its penchant toward anarchy, even more so -- in terms of comedic style, Signore Scola, shown at right, proves one of those disciples of the bang-you-over-the-head-until-it-hurts school of filmmaking.

Yet whether we are in the land of utter realism or pushed-to-the-brink satire (maybe a very ripe contraction of the the two) remains to be seen. Though made in 1976,  the movie never reached the USA until 1979 (where it was rather lukewarmly received). Now, for some reason, it is being given a slight theatrical release once again, spruced up in digital format.

One thing this new digital format does is to point up almost immediately what a lousy make-up/aging job was done on the film's lead actor, Nino Manfredi, shown at left, who looks about as fake as can be throughout the movie. Worse, the filmmaker seems to have little understanding of how comedic satire works and so instead piles on the nastiness and shocks, each of which grows less and less funny and envelope-pushing as it appears. Along the way we get transvestism, inter-family sex (both pictured below), religion, money, hypocrisy, robbery, attempted murder and even a fantasy/dream sequence. Nothing manages to raise a genuine laugh -- and that dream fantasy is particularly lead-footed.

A little over midway, Scola goes all Fellini on us, introducing a very large woman-as-sex-object. Things come to a head as Dad brings home this latest "love" to meet the family, and that family, en masse, decides to murder him.

Nothing here is remotely believable (which you need for comedic satire), and coming in as it does at just a shard under two full hours, the film seems to go on forever. At the finale, we're right back where we started, as one of the characters we began with now ends the film in the same way -- except that now she is pregnant.

Several years back, at the FSLC's annual festival of new Italian films, Open Roads, was shown a remarkable movie that accomplished everything that this one probably hoped to -- and about ten times better. That film, It Was the Son (È stato il figlio) by Daniele Cipri, is an amazing piece of work on every level from style and content to performances, writing and direction. Further, it takes place in the same decade as does Ugly, Dirty & Bad. So far as TrustMovies knows, that one never got a theatrical release here. Maybe, in another 40 years, as with Scola's film, those of you still alive will finally get the chance to view it.

Meanwhile, I suspect that Ugly-Dirty & Bad, at the time of its initial release and even now, remains the right-wing's fondest dream (that audiences will see the poor as this useless, stupid and worthless) and simultaneously its worst nightmare: that these are the kind of people who might someday obtain power in a real democracy -- which the world has yet to actually experience. So far it's been mostly breadcrumbs and occasionally an actual loaf or two arriving to us via the ever-rich-and-powerful.

Well, see it and judge for yourself, as Ugly, Dirty & Bad hits Blu-ray and DVD from Film Movement this Tuesday, November 1. Eventually it may grace digital venues, too. 

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