Dellamorte Dellamore Review
"The rest of the world doesn't exist."
We open inside a skull. The camera pulls back out of its nose, towards a telephone in a murky building. A man answers it and proceeds to have a conversation with the speaker on the other end of the line. Suddenly, there's a knock at the door. The man opens it and finds himself confronted with a maggot-ridden, wall-eyed figure: a zombie, a risen corpse, the living dead. Thoroughly unphased, the man takes aim and shoots it point-blank in the skull with a pistol.
Thus begins Dellamorte Dellamore, a 1994 Italian film better know to English-speaking audiences by the thoroughly unimaginative title of Cemetery Man. "Dellamorte Dellamore", which translates as "of death, of love", rolls off your tongue. "Cemetery Man", well, doesn't. Anyway, Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is the keeper of the cemetary in the small, isolated town of Buffalora, and he leads a rather uneventful life, apart from the fact that the corpses in his cemetary have the annoying habit of rising from their graves after seven days. Dellamorte, therefore, has appointed himself the guardian of sorts to the town, and armed with his pistol, he shoots the corpses in the head as they arise. A rather thankless task, given that he is very much a social outcast, mocked and distrusted by the townspeople - which suits him just fine. Only his loyal assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro), a large mute man with the mental capacity of a very young child, keeps him company. Until, that is, Dellamorte crosses paths with a stunningly beautiful woman (Anna Falchi) whose elderly husband has just died. The two fall in love, but their romance is interrupted when the husband rises from his grave and bites his wife, fatally wounding her. With his one true love, never named but referred to in the credits as "She", dead, Dellamorte begins to ponder the meanings of life, death and love. However, She mysteriously reappears time and time again, each time with a different personality and lifestyle. Dellamorte begins to go completely mad, his grip on reality becoming more and more tenuous.
So what is Dellamorte Dellamore? Is it a comedy? A horror film? A romance? Who knows. All I know is that it's a damn good piece of work. Think Amelie meets Dawn of the Dead meets Donnie Darko and you might be close to the mark. Despite being a product of the Dario Argento stable, producer/director Michele Soavi's style is nothing like that of his former mentor, which is reassuring since his previous efforts, including Aquarius and La Chiesa, are said to have been very much in the line of Argento's work, albeit of a lesser pedigree. Here, his style is consistently imaginative, injecting a unique style into every frame and never going for easy shots. There is a continual dreamlike feeling to Mauro Marchetti's cinematography. Soavi consistently goes for unusual camera angles and more often than not frames his actors very deliberately, with a number of setups reminiscent of various historical paintings. The set design by Antonello Gelleng (an Argento mainstay since The Stendhal Syndrome) is always believable and often striking, carefully designed to give as much atmosphere to the film as possible. There is a particularly beautiful scene in which Dellamorte and She enter a flooded mausoleum and the rays of sunlight pour in behind them. Shots like these may look straightforward to film - as the production design and lighting are so good that it often looks as if the filmmakers just happened to stumble across these setups - but almost certainly aren't. The film also benefits greatly from the excellent make-up and animatronics by Sergio Stivaletti (another Argento regular), who puts his considerable skill with his favourite subject of animated decapitated heads to excellent use.
The film has a bizarre logic all of its own. In one scene, an incarnation of She tells Dellamorte that she was raped by the mayor. "Wait!" she says. "I liked it! Not the violence, no. But after that we did it again nicely, so that I'd forgive him." In another, Dellamorte is on a rampage in a hospital and has killed two nurses and a doctor. As he walks down the stairs, gun in hand, Marshall Straniero (Mickey Knox) approaches him. "A maniac is on the loose in the building, killing people," he announces. "You've good a gun: good, you can defend yourself." Somehow, the context of the film and the performances of the actors make these completely outlandish reactions seem logical. Indeed, it is the film's inability to treat its subject matter seriously that prevents it from appearing pretentious. There's something very funny about the sight of the dour Rupert Everett nonchalantly blowing off the heads of walking corpses that doesn't immediately strike you as funny, but remains in your mind as a wonderfully light-hearted way of approaching such actions. Another extremely amusing sub-plot involves Gnaghi digging up the head of the mayor's daughter, Valentina (Fabiana Formica). The head, predictably, is fully concious and, much to Gnaghi's delight, professes its love for him. Gnaghi then puts the head inside his broken TV (accidentally shot by Dellamorte in an earlier scene), and they proceed to entertain each other. There's no rationalizing it, but somehow it makes perfect sense.
The excellent performances by the lead actors also help make the bizarre subject matter legitimate. Rupert Everett, who has possibly the most boring voice in film, actually comes across as thoroughly charismatic in the Italian dub. His character, Dellamorte, treats the ridiculous situations he finds himself in with a mixture of world-weariness and apathy, and no-one does moody stares better than Everett. François Hadji-Lazaro is wonderful as the seemingly retarded Gnaghi, a character whose reactions are never in moderation. Whether he's grinning gleefully and emitting the high-pitched "Gna!" noise from which he gets his name, or scowling with rage as he attempts to comprehend Dellamorte's actions, his performance is consistently engaging. I also found Anna Falchi to be extremely interesting to watch. Despite having surgically enhanced breasts of ridiculous proportions, the Finnish beauty manages to convey a sense of innocence, and Dellamorte's obsession with her actually seems palpable. She gives a very dignified performance, and at least in the Italian dub she comes across extremely well. (In the English dub, she's not so lucky.) Actually, everyone in the film acquits themselves well. Soavi is in luck here: he's working with good actors and manages to extract superb performances from all of them.
Much like the excellent Donnie Darko and Mulholland Dr., Delamorte Dellamore is a film that will probably remain in your mind for a long time after you finish watching it as you try to figure out what it all means. Dellamorte Dellamore has a lot more in common with the former than the latter, both because they share a similar tone and because both do tell a completely coherent narrative, whereas with Mulholland Dr. you are required to distill quite a bit more to actually work out what's going on. Still, a number of moments feel decidedly Lynchian, and although there are, alas, no midgets in Dellamorte Dellamore, there are plenty of bizarre interactions, strongly caricatured personalities, and a feeling that is definitely dreamlike. Overall, therefore, this is one of the most imaginative and immaculately contructed films I've seen in a long time. All the elements manage to pull together resulting in a film that, while not for everyone, should definitely be seen by fans of the various genres to which it belongs, be it horror, romance, comedy or fantasy.
One final aside: the "T" (all ages") rating of this film demonstrates how completely different Italy's attitude is to sex when compared to the UK's. The film is actually rated "18" in this country, I suspect partially because of the violence and horror element, but also because it includes a couple of fairly intense sex scenes. Personally the violence is more of an issue to me than the sex (after all, one causes harm, and the other most certainly does not), but I see no reason for this film not to be shown to children who know the difference between right and wrong.
The packaging lists an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, but in actual fact some minor pillarboxing on either side of the images causes the aspect ratio to be closer to 1.66:1. According to IMDB, 1.66:1 is actually the film's intended ratio, and certainly there seems to be no problem with the framing, so I believe that this is more or less the correct presentation.
This is a stunning transfer, marred only by a couple of problems that I doubt most viewers will even notice. It has a rich, film-like look, with enough grain and occasional flecks on the negative to remind you that you are watching a film and not a digital video. The colours are excellent, and the night-time scenes, which account for slightly over a third of the film's running time, look every bit as vibrant and detailed as the daylight ones. There are no visible compression artefacts whatsoever, and edge enhancement is non-existant. This is not the sharpest image I have ever seen - it appears to be slightly filtered - but it has a very pleasant look to it. My only real criticism is two slightly irritating half-line gashes that cover the top and bottom two lines of the image. This is something I have seen on a number of PAL transfers (never NTSC, to the best of my knowledge), and I wish I knew the reason for it. Still, for most viewers this will be hidden by overscan, so I only mention this as a warning to users with projection displays or computer monitors. Overall, this is a very solid transfer from Medusa, one of their best.
The packaging lists surround-encoded Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks in English and Italian, but in reality there is no surround encoding. No matter anyway, as the original theatrical audio mix was stereo.
I would recommend watching this film in Italian with English subtitles. In keeping with the work of Argento, Soavi chose to shoot the film in English and to post-dub it. Even Rupert Everett, Mickey Knox and Clive Riche, all native English speakers, are dubbed, although Everett at least has provided his own voice. Still, the English dub is overall quite poor, with a number of the actors, particularly Anna Falchi, being given extremely weak voices. The Italian dub, in contrast, is absolutely superb, and does an admirable job of making itself appear legitimate despite not synchronizing with the actors' lip movements. Although this is only a stereo mix, it feels like something much more expansive, with strong channel separation and an adequate amount of bass. The dialogue is always very crisp, and the sound effects are well mixed. Overall, a great audio track to complement the video.
The packaging is fairly good. Medusa aren't exactly known for creating visually ornate cover art, and this one is no exception, but it gets the job done well enough.
Inside there is a four-page booklet featuring listings for scene selection and the bonus material, as well as information on the audio and aspect ratio, and a brief listing of other titles available from Medusa.
The main menu is extremely nicely designed, with no music or animation. The whole thing is very tastefully done and there are no problems with navigation.
This is definitely a case of quality over quantity, but unfortunately I barely understand a word of Italian and English subtitles are not provided for the bonus material.
Making-of featurette - This 17-minute featurette looks very much like it was created for Italian television, to advertise the film before its release. A great deal of behind-the-scenes video footage is on display here, including some very interesting material pertaining to the creation of the animatronic effects, as well as a segment showing Anna Falchi's complex make-up being applied in preparation for the scene where she shows up as a rotting corpse. Interview footage is included for various participants, including director Michele Soavi, writer Gianni Romoli, animatronics man Sergio Stivaletti, and various actors. Rupert Everett is interview and he talks in English, but unfortunately he is overdubbed by an Italian voice actor. Overall, though, this is worth watching even if you don't understand Italian, purely for the visual spectacle and the information that can be gleaned from it.
Audio commentary - Michele Soavi and Gianni Romoli provide a commentary that is, as far as I can ascertain, lively and light-hearted, although of course I can't comment on the overall substance of the material they relay. Italian subtitles are also provided for this track.
Cast and crew biographies - Biographies are provided for Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi, Michele Soavi and Tiziano Sclavi (author of the graphic novel that inspired the film). Finally, a listing of the principal actors and crew members is also included.
Dellamorte Dellamore is my first introduction to the films of Michele Soavi, and it is an eye-opener indeed. Presented on a technically excellent DVD with a handful of high quality extras that will appeal more to Italian speakers than to anyone else, this Italian DVD is definitely the one to buy, as opposed to the bare-bones German release, which has substantially poorer image quality (US and UK releases are still MIA). Although I don't see this film, with its weird blend of comedy, romance, horror and drama, to appeal to everyone, those with an interest in the bizarre are recommended to check this title out.