A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness.
"La grande scrofa nera" translates as "the large black sow" and is an expression that we learn has been given to the family Mazzara through three generations. Enrico (Mark Frechette), open to a more modern sensibility than his rural peasant farming family, his grandmother (Flora Robson), in failing health and world-weary in her self-deprecating use of the expression, and his father (Alain Cuny), an authoritarian traditionalist, his handful of brothers and his sister all live together. Enrico meets a stylish girl from the city, Anita (Rada Rassimov), and marries her, bringing her into this setting. The family has never been at peace with strangers in their midst and Anita, as an outsider and an unintentionally provocative distraction to Enrico's brothers, does not feel comfortable, and fails to settle in, especially as more and more conflicts erupt in the household after her arrival. She eventually can deal with it no longer, and starts yearning for a way out of the marriage. She meets a local doctor, Ramez (Francisco Rabal), and flees with him, but he succumbs on the road from cholera. Enrico goes after her to bring her back, intending at first to end her life by killing her, but relents and reconciles with her instead. His father, however, is enraged at her betrayal and behavior, and summarily orders Enrico's brothers to have their way with her. When Enrico learns of this, he turns on his family to redress their violence and falls prey to it himself, killing his brothers, his father, and even his sister Cristina (Liana Trouche), who is caught in the ensuing massacre. He flees with his grandmother and wife, who ultimately dies in a mental hospital. He will end up surrendering to the authorities, unable to take his own life, but with a resigned sense of nobility undone that he cannot articulate. Played out with the inexorability of Greek tragedy and a blistering commentary on the typical and traditional patriarchal peasant farming family, the film has as its moral core (and subtle, sublime oracle), Flora Robson, a reservoir of wisdom and an island of reason, isolated, along with Anita, in a Sicilian brew of baser instincts and familial moral disintegration that ravages and ultimately dooms all others in the family Mazzara...including Enrico. He will recount the tale in flashback as an old man. Mark Frechette's performance is quite affecting and was more than a work in progress in its rendering of the sadness, soullessness and final serenity that overwhelms Enrico. Although this film is very hard to find, it is well worth the effort. What may read as turgid melodrama here is not. The film adroitly transcends that with a number of arresting and compelling touches added to it along the way. I think we have to primarily thank Flora Robson, a wonderful veteran character actress for that, as well as the direction and incisive screenplay by Filippo Ottoni, but the acting is strong by the entire cast. There is also a haunting score by Luis Bacalov that I wish was available independent of the film. (There's a much too short snippet of the score on youtube.com.) A brief final comment on Mark Frechette. Juxtaposed to his role as Lieutenant Sassu in "Uomini contro," his only other film after "Zabriskie Point," this is a trilogy of films that should be seen together to re-assess his legacy as an actor. His later difficulties with the law in his short life can be left to the judgments of those who live outside of the world of "Mark" in "Zabriskie Point", Lieutenant Sassu in "Uomini contro" or Enrico Mazzara in "La grande scrofa nera". One indulgence does not negate appreciation of the other.
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