St. Michael Had a Rooster (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani / Italy, 1972):
(San Michele aveva un gallo)

Tolstoy via Brecht, the tale of "a disobedient little boy." Umbria, Perugino country, insurrection like a nuisance on a sleepy spring day. Landowning scion and ice-cream peddler, the firebrand (Giulio Brogi) leads the ragtag brigade of radicals to the town square, it goes about as well as expected. (Buildings are stormed, banners unfurled, flour sacks dragged, pamphlets scattered and carbines fired, the awkward spectacle unfolds in deadpan long-shots.) Not bad, just "così-così" as the rebels sit and wait for capture, the verdict is decided in a Matisse chamber under the gaze of a Velasquez tyke munching on a carrot. Life imprisonment for the leader, just a bare cell and an apprehensive mind: "I've never been so free!" A subversive's awakening for Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, split into three segments, scrupulously bitter and irrepressibly comic. Greasy slop into gourmet meals and brick walls to bounce images off, such is the prisoner's escape into himself, he plays every part in an imaginary meeting with his comrades and still loses the argument. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich or nearly, Auden's sage advice ("...teach the free man how to praise"). The camera pans alongside him as he paces in terror before dollying back to leave him encircled by darkness, the first glimpse of the outside in ten years is met with an extended tracking shot and grave elation. Divided ideologies afloat (cf. Hitchcock's Lifeboat), the new industrial generation—whatever happened to the revolution? "We're into science and economics, not philosophy. Did you ever consider statistics?" Open spaces are no less suffocating to the political dreamer who's lost his utopia, the final image recomposes Rossellini's in Paisà. With Daniele Dublino, Virginia Ciuffini, and Renato Scarpa.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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