Faccia a Faccia Review

During the mid-1960s, the massive commercial success of the Sergio Leone Western trilogy left producer Alberto Grimaldi eager to capitalise on this winning streak.. As Leone had gone off to make Once Upon a Time in the West, Grimaldi decided to work again with Sergio Sollima with whom he had collaborated on the acclaimed La resa dei conti - released overseas as The Big Gundown. Sollima was a much more politically committed director than Leone and was keen to make his Spaghetti Westerns something more thought provoking and character driven than most exercises in the genre. The result was Faccia a Faccia, one of the best Spaghettis of the period and very different to the Leone trilogy, despite the presence of Leone collaborators Gian Maria Volonte, Carlo Simi and Ennio Morricone.

Fletcher (Volonte) is a history professor from Massachusets who is forced to cease teaching at the beginning of the Civil War and decides to move down to Texas for the good of his health – he suffers from Tuberculosis. While staying in a Cantina, he attempts to help Beauregarde Bennett (Milian), a captured bandit who promptly escapes from his captors and kidnaps Fletcher. Gradually, the two men strike up a close friendship and Fletcher becomes fascinated by the instinctive brutality of the bandit and his gang, starting to try some of their practises for himself. Meanwhile, Fletcher's intellect begins to rub off on Bennett and the two men slowly change places; Fletcher becomes a paradox - an intellectual thug who has refined violence into an academic discipline – and takes over the gang while Bennett starts to become more refined and increasingly disgusted by his new friend's pleasure in sadism. When the gang is betrayed by a Pinkerton agent-in-place, Charley Siringo (Berger), Bennett befriends a Mexican child and becomes the leader of a group of lost souls who have been cast out of town and are left to struggle through the desert.

This is all much more complicated than most Spaghetti Westerns which came before and, it seems, intentionally so. Sollima and his co-writer Sergio Donati – best known for his work with Leone – have become fascinated by the turnaround of the two characters – intellectual into bandit and bandit into compassionate man of peace – and this makes the film more of a character piece than a traditional Western. The quiet, thoughtful beginning – a discursive lecture about the force of history – is very unusual for the genre and the action is relatively sparse. The relationship between a bandit and a 'civilian' appears in The Big Gundown when Lee Van Cleef's sheriff and Tomas Milian's unjustly accused Mexican rebel are thrown together in a jail cell and is further refined in the educative political relationship of Franco Nero and Tony Musante in Sergio Corbucci's 1968 film A Professional Gun. But this film benefits greatly from the interplay between Volonte and Milian who work together quite beautifully. I think it's fair to say that this is the one of the films which really introduce Volonte as a major film actor and it allows him much more scope than the two Dollars films offered him – although you can see obvious signs of development in technique between those two movies. He was an actor who had the ability to express a chilly intellectualism without losing a basic physicality and you can see this both here and in his great award winning performances for Elio Petri and Francesco Rosi. He makes Fletcher a thoroughly unnerving figure, a clever man whose academic fascination with violence turns inexorably real. Sollima and Donati intended a parallel with Fascism and Fletcher does a lot of talking about the necessity of violence for the progression of humanity into something greater – it's all very Nietzcshe. Tomas Milian is a more limited actor than his co-star but he's very capable and handles the character turn with some skill as Bennett becomes a man of the oppressed people.

It's very significant that the people Bennett hooks up with are outsiders, oppressed by the supposedly civilised townspeople and initially represented by a small Mexican child. The anger of the community, which forms a lynch mob to chase them, is very much the rage of the oppressor denied what he sees as his natural superiority over the oppressed and determined to restore his rights. There's an obvious parallel here with American imperialism and the American relationship with Central America, although it's not pushed as far as it is in the work of Franco Sollinas who wrote for Sergio Corbucci. The dichotomies in society which are present in the town which Fletcher and the gang have attempted to rob are no longer present in Bennett's group of outcasts and this new classless is seen – thanks to Morricone's positively spiritual scoring of the scenes – to be the desired condition. It's equally important that Siringo recognises the change in Bennett and allows him to go free at the end while condeming Fletcher to flounder in the desert. In many of these political Spaghetti Westerns, I think we see European left-wing idealists portraying the America they wish to see, one which is so often destined to be crushed by the hand of capitalist self-interest. Mexico isn't really Mexico as such but a representation of the Third World being exploited by the First.

If this sounds a bit dry, then rest assured that Faccia a Faccia is a riveting movie where the political undertones, obvious though they may be, are kept in place by a strong, character driven story which is pacily directed and very exciting. Ennio Morricone's music score is not one of his most memorable but is always just right and the look of the film owes much to the low-budget miracles wrought by Carlo Simi and some splendid cinematography. Sergio Sollima would go on to make the disappointing Run Man Run and the excellent crime thriller Violent City but I think this is his best film.

The Disc

This version of Faccia a Faccia runs 108 minutes, 15 minutes longer than the previous edition available in the UK. It appears to be completely uncut.

The quality of the picture is somewhat variable but this is to be expected since the elements used by Eureka were the best available and had not been particularly well preserved. It should be stated that the image generally looks as good as it ever will with some beautifully accurate colour tones and a general appearance of sharpness – sometimes rather too much sharpness as edge enhancement is a problem in places. However, there's a decent level of detail and the print damage – some scratches and spotting – isn't too distracting. The film is, as you'd expect, presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced.

The only soundtrack available is an Italian mono track with optional English subtitles. I'm not sure why an English dub was not included but it presumably has something to do with the materials being too poor to work from. The track is pretty good with Ennio Morricone's music coming across very strongly.

The extra features consist of two theatrical trailers – one anamorphic, one not – and an interesting 16 minute interview with Sergio Sollima during which he discusses the themes of the film, working with Milian and Volonte and the collaboration with Ennio Morricone. This is in Italian with optional subtitles.

It's a shame that Eureka were not able to release this on Blu Ray and an equal shame that it wasn't included in their Masters of Cinema series – it's certainly a better film, in this viewer's opinion, than some of the things they've been putting into that range recently and Sollima deserves more recognition. However, this remains the best home viewing copy of the film that I've seen and is highly recommended.

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