Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michel Piccoli, Anita Pallenberg, Gino Lavagetto, Carla Petrillo, Mario Jannilli, Annie Girardot
Written by: Marco Ferreri, Sergio Bazzini
Directed by: Marco Ferreri
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 92
Date: 01/23/1969

Dillinger Is Dead (1969)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Gun Hazy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

There seems to be a movement underway to draw some attention to the forgotten cult director Marco Ferreri (La Grande Bouffe, Tales of Ordinary Madness), and judging by Dillinger Is Dead (1969), which has just been released on Criterion Collection DVD, it's a good impulse. The film is definitely a product of the late 1960s, with all that that implies, but the existential energy behind it is still very much relevant.

The film takes place over the course of one long night and contains very little dialogue. Michel Piccoli stars in a tour-de-force performance as Glauco, and his job alone is filled with fascinating symbolism: he's a maker of designer gas masks. The ramifications of this may seem obvious to us today, but how many people today are performing similar tasks, putting happy faces on ugly truths? At any rate, he goes home and finds his pretty blond wife (Anita Pallenberg) in bed. She pops a few pills and is never seen in an upright position again. Dinner is left out for Glauco, but it doesn't interest him and he begins cooking his own meal. While poking around looking for spices (or whatnot), he finds a package. Inside the package is a gun, wrapped in a newspaper. The newspaper's headline is about the death of gangster John Dillinger. Is this Dillinger's gun?

Glauco spends the rest of the film flitting about his house in a state of restless, twitchy boredom. He looks for something in a drawer or a cabinet, finds something else -- a snake puppet, for example -- and plays with it for a bit. His wife becomes a plaything for a few moments. He tries to get her to react to the snake and tape-records her snoring. He goes into the maid Sabina's (Annie Girardot) room and climbs in bed with her. He sits down to watch some home movies (some kind of work-related project) but winds up playing with the projector beam. He keeps returning to the gun, taking it apart, cleaning it with oil, looking for a file, and then piecing it back together and even painting it red (with polka dots)!

The movie has at least one shocking turn of events and a great, weird ending, but none of these detracts from or solves the movie's theme, which is that -- despite all this stuff in his house, and even the people in his house -- Glauco's life is meaningless. He focuses on dozens of things, but no one thing holds any importance. He's bored and restless, but has no idea how to satisfy these itches. Even his most drastic act leaves him unsatisfied, and perhaps even his radical departure at the end will fail to fill the holes. Ferreri directs all this exactly right, with great deal of dark amusement, and filling his frame with the same meaningless stuff with which Glauco has filled his life (even the light feels like a cluttered cluster of colors). It's a bizarre, fascinating experience, and one that will sink a bit deeper into your psyche than you might expect.

The new Criterion Collection DVD comes with a new interview with Piccoli (who worked with Ferreri several more times). There's also an interview with film historian Adriano Apr´┐Ż, and a roundtable discussion about director Marco Ferreri, with filmmakers Bernardo Bertolucci and Francesco Rosi and film historian Aldo Tassone. Ferreri himself died in 1997, so this video transfer was supervised by director of photography Mario Vulpiani. The disc also includes a trailer, and a liner notes essay by film critic Michael Joshua Rowin as well as a selection of reprinted interviews with Ferreri.

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