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A demon bestows on a self-righteous working photographer's camera the power to smite from the Earth "evil-doers". Naturally, the indignant photographer turns his new weapon on, one by one, his entire village, beginning with the wealthy or illustrious. Soon, the poor he is so supposedly so enamored of become his victims too, so rife with impatience and contempt is he, that the slightest flaw is cause for smiting. Inevitably, he embarks on a task to destroy everyone. Written by
"La Macchina Ammazzacattivi" ("The Machine That Kills People") is an amazing film. It proves, along with De Sica's "Miracle in Milan", that a Neo-Realist film can be funny as well as surreal. What I mean by 'Neo-Realist' is that there was a style of film popularized just before WWII ended and it continued into about the mid-1950s. Because the studios were broke, they had to content themselves with making films without stars--using locals as well as local buildings and streets instead of sets. Most of these films are rather serious in tone, but this film (as well as the De Sica film) are ridiculously non-serious--and are both charming to boot.
The film is set in a small Italian town. Celestino is a photographer who thinks he's seen the dead patron saint of the village, St. Andrew. This 'saint' bestows on Celestino a great power--a magical camera that can kill! Fortunately, Celestino isn't blood-thirsty. But, when the leaders of the town all show themselves to be a greedy and selfish lot, he reluctantly (at first) uses this gift to punish the wicked. Eventually, however, Celestino goes too far--and this leads to one of the strangest endings I can recall seeing in an Italian film. Suffice to say that I won't say more, as I don't want to spoil the surprise--but it's worth it!
This is a very odd film in that the director, Roberto Rossellini, lost interest in the movie and left it on the shelf. Somewhere along the line, the studio had another director finish it and the film was released--and practically everyone hated it! But, today it's been restored and is a classic. I think that the dark comedy was just ahead of its time, as the film played badly then but works great today due to changing sensibilities. All I know is that I thought the film was wonderful--and it's definitely the best Rossellini film I have seen--and it's filled with many wonderful moments.
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