Baffling Euro-nuttiness from the late sixties. Very much a product of its time, this film probably won’t appeal to most viewers, but for those of you who (like me) enjoy psychedelic weirdness it’s a must.
Italy’s late Elio Petri directed several impressive films in the 1960s and 70s, including THE 10th VICTIM (1965) and INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1970). With 1968’s A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY (UN TRANQUILLO POSTO DI CAMPAGNA) Petri and mega-producer Alberto Grimaldi managed to corral some top-flight talent, including Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave (both coming off 1967’s CAMELOT), screenwriter Tonino Guerra (who also worked for luminaries like Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Andrei Tarkovsky), cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller (of FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, BLOOD FOR DRACULA and DEEP RED) and legendary composer Ennio Morricone (whose accomplishments are too myriad to conclusively list here).
Leonardo Ferri is an avant-garde artist who’s having psychological problems. Those problems express themselves in a succession of sadomasochistic nightmares, one of which has his girlfriend/agent Flavia stabbing him to death in a bathtub. Following a near-psychotic breakdown at an art exhibition, Ferri decides the solution to his troubles is to get away from the city and move into an old country house.
The move, unfortunately, only compounds Ferri’s problems. The house is staffed by a sultry live-in maid and her “brother” who sleeps in the girl’s bed. The abode is also haunted, which becomes apparent when Ferri is woken up by the sound of his easels being destroyed by some unseen force. The following day Flavia is nearly killed by a falling bookcase.
Questioning the locals about his house, Ferri learns that it was previously inhabited by a promiscuous young woman named Wanda, who was murdered during WWII. Ferri investigates Wanda’s life and visits her mother, an old woman residing in Venice (stealing some old photos of Wanda while he’s at it!).
Ferri decides to hold a séance in the house to contact Wanda’s spirit. He’s joined in this endeavor by Flavia and several townspeople, all of whom are as fascinated by Wanda’s specter as Ferri. From there things really get nutty!
Elio Petri makes his intentions evident during the opening credits, intercut with a mad jumble of creepy and unsettling psychedelic imagery, and set to Ennio Morricone’s jagged, asynchronous score (certainly one of the legendary Morricone’s oddest compositions). Petri was clearly less interested in scaring us, or even telling a coherent story, than he was in crafting hallucinogenic weirdness of the type that was prevalent in European cinema of the late sixties (see Ingmar Bergman’s HOUR OF THE WOLF and Guilio Questi’s DEATH LAID AN EGG, both of which appeared the same year as the present film and bear many similarities).
By the end of this fast paced swirl of rapid-fire weirdness the mystery at the heart of the narrative no longer matters, just as all distinction between the “real” and otherwise has completely dissolved. Yet Petri maintains control over the material throughout, regardless of whether he’s interweaving flashbacks of the murdered Wanda (played by Gabrielle Grimaldi) or disorienting us with surreal interludes (such as the protagonist lobbing a wreath of flowers grenade-like at his mistress, complete with an explosion on the soundtrack).
Acting-wise Vanessa Redgrave shows off her body (and little else), while in the lead role Franco Nero is bit overwrought, so wild-eyed and intense it’s hard to believe it takes so long for the other characters to catch on to the fact that he’s nuts. Nor is the gradual descent into madness indicated by the script ever convincing, as it’s clear from the start that this guy’s already there.
A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY (UN TRANQUILLO POSTO DI CAMPAGNA)
Director: Elio Petri
Producer: Alberto Grimaldi
Screenplay: Elio Petri, Luciano Vincentown (and Tonino Guerra)
Cinematography: Luigi Kuveiller
Editing: Ruggero Mastroianni
Cast: Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Georges Geret, Gabriella Grimaldi, Madeleine Damien, Rita Calderoni, Valerio Ruggero, Renato Menegotto, Arnaldo Momo, Sara Momo, Otello Cazzola