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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Un Uomo a Metà" or "A Man in Half" is remarkable for its visual style;
more remarkable for its style than for its content. This 1966 film is
part of the wave of innovative cinema that swept the globe for an
unfortunately brief time. In 1966, people were going to movies to see
something they had not seen before. Like "Blow-Up" from the same year,
this Vittorio De Seta film surely gave viewer an unexpected, new
experience. But unlike the Antonioni masterpiece, this film has not
survived so well. It's difficult to find on video with or without
It is tempting to call this impressionistic cinema, by way of the Nouvelle Vague. De Seta intentionally begins the film without any introduction. We are shown a handsome young man (Michel, played by Jacques Perrin) dressed in a suit, lying on his back in the middle of a forest. "Why?", he asks himself in voice-over, "How did this happen?". We then watch the man rise, walk around and proceed through a series of encounters and flashbacks that can be confusing to say the least. It's really never clear what the main character's background and identity are until the final scenes (and even then, it's ambiguous). We watch this character, tormented by inner demons and insufferable memories, grope his way through a nightmarish landscape as if he were under the influence of a drug. But no apparent drugs are involved, apart from cigarette smoking, Michel refuses food and alcohol throughout, only once, nearly comically, consuming a grape. The film is edited in an extremely rapid style, prefiguring the fast methods of current television and MTV video. Few shots are seen for more than 10 seconds. The effect of this, in widescreen black-and-white, is sometimes hallucinatory, and the viewer is drawn into Michel's tormented psyche for the duration. Few concrete details of plot are revealed, and we are left to piece together what has happened in our own minds. Somewhere along the way, Michel has met with events involving his mother, his brother and his girlfriend that have left him devastated. His mother compares him to the brother, finding Michel lacking in substance and ambition. The girlfriend seems to prefer the brother romantically, and somehow it all ends in tragedy. Was Michel responsible? Or did he imagine he was responsible? The impressionistic approach of the film never makes it all clear. This is not a film of copious dialog, its story is told through imagery, a fragmented dark night of the soul. The emotional core lies in Jacques Perrin's brilliant, award-winning performance. On screen nearly all the time, Perrin conveys his role largely thorough mute close-ups and reaction shots, achieving an impressive expressive range. A film of striking originality, "Un Uomo a Metà" deserves to be rediscovered.
The obscurity of this motion picture is hard to explain after having watched it twice. Maybe it got lost in the crowded field of mid 60's art cinema, neglected amid Woman in the Dunes, Persona, Blowup, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Masculin/Feminin, Darling, 2001. And the name of the director may be too similar to that of the director of Bicycle Thieves. It has been known to happen. All I can say is that Un Uomo a Meta blew my mind even without understanding all of the dialogue/voice-over in Italian. There's so much more to this film than the words. De Seta uses the medium to reimagine narrative itself. An amazing cinematic venture into the subjective side of a character in full meltdown mode. Perrin delivers 1000% with his mysteriously tormented Michel. Morricone's music is loud, percussive, even intrusive, but always justifiably so as we accompany Michel on his journey to the abyss. Cinematographer Dario DiPalma gets some superb shots that are hard to describe except by their effect, which feels something like "seeing" mental disintegration in 3D. The focus puller deserves special praise for fearlessly staying out of focus! Overexposure is also employed effectively, years ahead of all those Ralph Lauren commercials. The cuts come rapidly, jarringly, as if anticipating a film aesthetic that still has yet to arrive. There must be some way to get this movie subtitled for presentation to a wider audience. De Seta has made one hell of a movie. In the history of films of dissolution Un Uomo a Meta can be placed in a middle period, after Dimitri Kirsanoff's Menilmontant (1926) and before Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000); yes, it's that good.
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