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
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
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
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
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