An eerie Italian psychological thriller starring Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero, out now from MGM’s MOD line
“What the hell’s the matter with him?” exclaims a pushy photographer, employed to take some publicity shots, after painter Leonardo Ferri (Franco Nero) has physically removed him from part of the property where he’s attempting to live and work. It’s a question that could also seem to apply to the bulk of Leonardo’s actions throughout A Quiet Place in the Country (also known by its Italian title Un tranquilo posto di campagna). On the surface, Ferri is experiencing a rough spell where he can’t finish a painting. Flavia (Vanessa Redgrave), who looks after both his sexual and business needs, is starting to get restless and wants Leonardo to produce new works which can then be sold while he’s still, to borrow from a collector in the film, a “good investment.” Weird dreams haunt the painter and he feels compelled to leave Milan for the country, with the hope that solitude will translate into creativity and production. Initially, Flavia sets up Leonardo at a count’s home but he instead has his eye on a nearby, apparently abandoned villa.
The country estate becomes a multitude of things for Leonardo. It’s almost an extension of the personal prison in which he’s found himself. Some painting gets done, but it’s unclear how much is really being finished. Instead, Leonardo becomes obsessed, to a maddening extent, with the young woman who had lived there over twenty years earlier. He grows to believe she haunts the property, having been killed by an air raid in 1944, and has a distinct interest in him. Locals tell him how the girl had enjoyed a sexually voracious lifestyle. Leonardo craves more information on this mysterious beauty, even going to Venice to see her decrepit mother. He’s inspired artistically but seems to be coming increasingly unraveled.
The extent to which the film allows Ferri’s apparent madness to dominate visually is striking. Director Elio Petri, whose Oscar-winning Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is still waiting for a DVD release in either the UK or stateside, was unafraid of baffling his audience with strange dream imagery and frequent uncertainty about whether things we’re seeing are real or only the perception of Leonardo. (Sometimes, as with his visit to see the girl’s mother when he keeps seeing a coffin in the place of the older shut-in, the potential implications are myriad.) This is clearly a horror film of sorts, though it’s one uninterested in the cheap thrill and far more focused on getting under the viewer’s skin. It succeeds and then some. What plays out as a deeply involving open wound of a picture also becomes a variety of things at once.
Most broadly, the film enjoys a creepy tour through what would seem to be a haunted house. Leonardo’s new residence does more than just creak and offer odd noises. It’s destructive, as though this ghost is specifically trying to guide Leonardo in some way that is destined to do him harm. That aspect, it should be noted, assumes that what we see (and how we see it) is reliable, something perhaps up for debate. The other major interpretation of Ferri’s behavior could be tied into that thin line between an artist’s madness and brilliance. If Leonardo’s grip on his own sanity is indeed slipping away then just how much of what we see can be trusted remains unclear. On some level, the struggle for creation seems to be the major thrust of the film. When combined with the especially twisted ending, much of the picture can be seen as a version of artistic pleading, of trying, begging and unavoidably failing to reach one’s creative potential. The neurosis involved in the making of art, while extreme here, is a close relative of the much more glamorous type of struggle often celebrated after the glow of success.
A strong sexual charge also emerges, and is employed in rather frank ways. There’s an interpretative field day to be gleaned from some of what’s seen in the film. Everything from Vanessa Redgrave’s slinky black lingerie get-up to the often opened red sweater the villa’s former resident wears intermittently would seem to instruct on some aspect of Leonardo’s state of mind. The way sex is used in the movie comes across as provocative, especially for its time, but also meaningful. What, exactly, it all means tends to remain obscured. Given Franco Nero’s performance, which is really quite persuasive overall, the character of Leonardo is never revealed in full, and there’s a distinct lack of revelations to be found in the film. It functions on multiple levels, from psychological horror to descent into creative madness, but the constantly building intrigue is perhaps the picture’s greatest asset. Its route is never assured, and what does occur tends to still only unnerve as much as it does explain. There’s a gentle insanity to this film, a sense that things are slipping away at an alarming pace but that we’re all helpless to quell what’s happening.
A Quiet Place in the Country (Un tranquilo posto di campagna) is released as a made-on-demand DVD-R through the MGM Limited Edition Collection. It’s also given the extra “World Films” banner familiar from the label’s earlier, properly pressed discs. This single-layered affair is housed in a lightweight keepcase with better than average cover art to entice the potential buyer.
The film is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen televisions. Video quality is fairly good. There are various instances of scratches, speckles and reel change markers. Some of the scratches do fit in very well with the film on a couple of occasions, to the point where they could be actually intentional. Colors look natural and pleasing to the eye. Grain is not too heavy, and the level of detail is reasonably strong. No major digital imperfections were detected.
The most noteworthy technical aspect of this disc is that it not only features optional English subtitles, which are white in color, but it also has two different audio tracks. One is the English dub and the other is in Italian. It seems that many of the actors, including Nero and Redgrave, are actually speaking in English, so the Italian option is no more helpful than the English one. It is, though, a little strange hearing virtually everyone other than the two leads speak with an American accent in this Italian-set film. The English mono sports a nearly constant hiss, with even some mild droning early on during the movie. The Italian dub has a similar, though perhaps less obvious, hiss. The dubbing makes the dialogue sound unnatural but it is at least reliably audible. Ennio Morricone’s score is a sometimes bizarre audio highlight, and it registers even on this less than ideal presentation.
A trailer (2:08), which is pretty effective at distilling some of the appeal of the picture into a couple of minutes, is included. It would seem to be for the American release, and it shows a few shots of some bare backsides.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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