7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Samperi's overlooked masterpiece
lor_ from New York, New York
24 May 2011
Salvatore Samperi has ranked among my favorite Italian directors ever
since I saw his hit MALIZIA in the early '70s, and this earlier work is
simply brilliant. It covers his basic theme of the perversion and
destruction of the family unit, here delivered in uncompromisingly
Casting coup is choosing young Maurizio Degli Esposti as the
protagonist, featured in virtually every scene and through whose eyes
the story unfolds. He's terrific - a handsome but strange thesp who
made very few films and thereby is not distracting or bringing any
movie star baggage to the role. His father has just died under
mysterious circumstances, and his quest is to find out what happened
and to take charge of his life.
His older siblings, Jean Sorel (old enough to be his dad) and the
strikingly sinister beauty Marilu Tolo seem to be responsible for the
patriarch's death, or are they? A constant tone of paranoia makes the
viewer wonder whether Enrico (Degli Esposti's role) is really sane, or
is he a victim of his family's hereditary insanity? His mother
committed suicide 10 years ago, and the boy has a fetishistic (her
shoes and clothing all dressed up mannequin-style) shrine to her, as he
listens endlessly to her voice on a tape recorder. The family's
housekeeper Talia has also been committed (by the siblings) to an
insane asylum and is crazy as a loon.
Titled KILL THE FATTED CALF AND ROAST IT, picture opens with cows being
taken to the slaughterhouse and in the final reel the Biblical parable
from Luke of the Prodigal Son is quoted to explain the relevance of
this ominous and highly uncommercial movie moniker.
En route to a thoroughly downbeat conclusion, Samperi pours on the
strangeness, with sexy Tolo clearly representing his favorite incest
theme, as both brothers desire her (and probably have gone further).
Enrico's closeness to his mother is really more infantile than a case
of incest, as represented in a key scene where he is about to suckle at
Tolo's breast (as present-day substitute) but is interrupted by the
arrival of Sorel.
Set in Padua, but given a Gothic atmosphere, film suggest the kind of
Poe or Lovecraft tales like "The Fall of the House of Usher" but is not
directed in horror film idiom beyond the suggestion of a family curse.
Samperi is a master of eroticism, and (other than his various anarchic
and lightweight comedy assignments) is unparalleled in creating a
morbid mood of dread mixed with sensuality. The filmmaker I most like
in this vein is Sweden's Arne Mattsson, but Samperi has gone much
further (in the realm of soft porn) than he ever did.
Degli Esposti's career is an enigma for me: I have seen him in three
avant garde movies of high quality, this one by Samperi, followed by
Giulio Questi's absurdist ARCANA and finally SIMONA, based on a novel
by Georges Bataille. All these films are about madness and in each
Degli Esposti is paired with an ultra-sexy (and sinister) older woman,
including such legends as Lucia Bose and Laura Antonelli. Did he burn
out and go crazy in real life?
Ennio Morricone's musical score exceeds even his high standards of the
period, and I was blown away -enjoying it (first time around at least)
as much as his INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN and MADDALENA soundtracks
from the outset of the '70s. Using various keyboards ranging from piano
& organ to harpsichord playing in syncopated, rondo fashion, it sets a
hypnotic mood that drives home the feeling of dread and an
impossibility of escaping (spider web of sound) that is incomparable.
Don't miss this if you're a Morricone fan.
Other technical credits are top-notch, including 'scope photography by
the wonderful Franco Di Giacomo and editing by the unsung genius of
Italian cinema Franco Arcalli (any film with his name in the credits is
worth watching, period).
The one misstep in this otherwise purist exercise is a false ending
which I won't spoil. It's one of those lame-duck "surprise twists"
tacked on after the film proper has concluded, the sort popularized if
my memory serves by Brian De Palma's gimmicky CARRIE finish. I hated
it, but FATTED CALF plays extraordinarily well without it, so I'll just
pretend the movie quit while it was ahead.
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