Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fernando Di Leo's NAKED VIOLENCE (I ragazzi del massacro, 1969)

Director Fernando Di Leo's adaptation of Ukrainian-Italian author Giorgio Scerbanenco's novel Caliber 9 is one of the great crime films of the 1970s. It was di Leo's second treatment of Scerbanenco. The first was I ragazzi del massacro (approximately, "The Massacre Boys"), a collaborative adapation by Di Leo and three other writers of a Scerbanenco police procedural. It's about the investigation of the gang rape and murder of a Milan night-school teacher by a classroom of sweathogs fueled by a bottle of aniseed. Commissario Lamberti (Pier Paolo Capponi) wants to find out who instigated the attack. He interrogates the boys one by one, constrained from striking them but using an aniseed bottle as an interrogation tool, forcing some to drink from it, pouring the contents on others, or on the chair they have to sit on. Several students finger one Fiorello Gassi as the ringleader but Lamberti has his doubts. Gassi sets off his gaydar (and the kid's sandals are apparently meant as a clue for the audience) and seems too sensitive and fearful to author such an atrocity. Lamberti goes gentle on him compared to his treatment of the other boys, but it does him little good. Eventually Gassi will fall off the roof of the building where the boys have been confined. Jumped or pushed? None can say.

Accompanied by Livia Ussaro, the boys' guidance counselor (Nieves "Susan Scott" Navarro), Lamberti looks up adult acquaintances of the boys in search of clues to the ultimate responsibility for the crime. It becomes clear that some of the kids were involved in international smuggling, but the boys remain a wall of silence. Lamberti and Ussaro hope to get answers by separating one of the boys, Carolino Marassi (Marzio Margine) and softening him up with tender treatment. They buy him new clothes and treat him to big dinners. Carolino seems to respond to this TLC but takes advantage of an errand to run away -- straight to the mystery person the Commissario has been after all along.

After a violent showdown with a malevolent mentor, we see the crime again -- having gotten a taste of it at the very start of the picture -- through Carolino's delirious flashback, in which he is almost as much a victim as the doomed teacher.

As much a juvenile-delinquent film as a procedural, Naked Violence raises old questions about the causes of delinquency, hoping to give them new urgency by magnifying the scale of the crime. For Lamberti, the case becomes an almost obsessive quest to pin down the personal responsibility for the evil; for him, why must boil down to who. Capponi's intensity holds the episodic first half of the picture together, while Margine's performance as Carolino shapes the second half. Despite the decent acting, the film often feels hamfisted, particularly whenever Silvano Spadaccino's overblown fanfare blasts out as each kid steps in for his first interrogation. This isn't an action picture like Milano Caliber 9 or Di Leo's related crime films, and the only time the director really shows off is during Carolino's climactic, horrific flashback. Otherwise it's a more modest movie, apart from the retroactive (if not immediate) campiness of the ultimate villain. The revelation of this rather ludicrous figure undercuts much of the horror the film aims at. The crime seems more unsettling if it remains ultimately motiveless and unfathomable, while the discovery and defeat of a master villain offers more reassurance than audiences got from Di Leo's bleak crime films. The filmmakers may have intended reassurance rather than horror, but the effect is still inferior to what Di Leo would achieve later, though Naked Violence remains a gradually compelling experience for patient viewers.

1 comment:

Sam Juliano said...

Interesting essay Samuel, but I can't say I am at all familiar with this film. Great subject though, so I'd like to seek it out.