Review Date: October 11, 2011
Released by: MGM
Release date: August 9, 2011
Widescreen 1.85 | 16x9: Yes
Iíd never heard of A Quiet Place in the Country
before the option to review it presented itself. Reading the synopsis, it sounded interesting and Italian cinema of late 60s and early 70s holds a lot of interest for me, especially genre films. Featuring genre Vet Franco Nero (Django
) and off-screen wife, Oscar-winning English actress Vanessa Redgrave, in the lead roles, a score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone and produced by Alberto Grimaldi, who has The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
and Last Tango in Paris
to his credit, A Quiet Place in the Country
certainly has an impeccable provenance. I wasnít quite prepared for, and was a bit blindsided by just how bold the film is both in craft and content. While it didnít turn out to be the lost masterpiece that every film aficionado always hopes to find, it is still an impressive effort well worth watching.
Leonard Ferri (Franco Nero
) a painter and visual artist at the height of his popularity, though hitting a bit of a creative wall, is tormented by nightmares. A bit of a kept man, by day he wanders the streets of Rome looking for inspiration while his wealthy girlfriend, Flavia (Vanessa Redgrave
) shops and generally acts frivolous. Driven to distraction by the city, he heads out to the country on an impromptu road trip where he sees an old, decaying mansion. Walking through its empty halls he sees little signs and remnants of the houseís former occupants. The quiet place seems to be standing silent on a bed of secrets. Ferri immediately becomes obsessed with living there and though Flavia tries to discourage him from doing so, he rents the place and sets up his studio.
A sense of peace and creative renewal seems to overtake Ferri as soon as he moves into his quiet house though he doesnít exactly endear himself to the help, first ogling the young maid, Egle (Rita Calderoni
) and then spray painting the masonís feet while heís trying to repair the brick work. Drunkenly wandering through the house his first night there, Ferri thinks he hears a young girl calling for help. He investigates the sound but cannot find any trace that any one was in distress. Later, Ferri again suffers from the same intense nightmares he had in the city and he awakes to find his studio trashed. Paint spilled, canvases torn, tables overturned. Egle claims no knowledge of what happened, nor did she hear anything.
The next day, while at the story buying supplies, the storekeeper tells Ferri about a young countess that died in the villa during an Allied strafing run in World War II. And when Flavia comes to visit him the roof almost collapses on her and a bookcase mysteriously falls over nearly on top of her, seemingly on purpose. At a restaurant in town that same night, he enquires with the locals about the countess, and receives no small amount of gossip. Wanda was a voracious man-eater and Ferri slowly receives Wandaís story piece by piece by the men in the village who had affairs with her and still havenít forgotten her fifteen years later; her memory haunts them as surely as it seems to haunt her former home. A sťance is called to expel to unquiet spirit, but the problems at this quiet country house run far deeper than anyone could have imagined.
While not as audacious as, say, Mario Bava or the films that made Dario Argento famous, A Quiet Place in the Country
is still a stylish and impressive effort. Had director Elio Petri made a more concerted effort to work in pure horror itís not hard to imagine heíd today be mentioned in the same breath as those luminaries. He certainly had the chops, and it will probably take a multiple of viewings of A Quiet Place in the Country
for to really be able to appreciate just how good he was. The thought of re-watching A Quiet Place
and deconstructing it for years to is an intriguing prospect.
In the city scenes the cinematography is flat, the frame cluttered, busy and lacking in aesthetic appeal. When the action moves out to the country, however, the visuals turn stylish and high contrast, with Petri employing sweeping camera moves for effect. Visually, A Quiet Place
is energetic and maintains a consistent forward momentum. And his handling of the dream sequences, which were in danger of feeling clichťd forty years after the fact, still feel fresh and alive.
Often, trying to visually portray a characterís mental state just comes off as pretentious but hereís well done here. The imagery employed in Ferriís visions is striking and the editing effectively makes connections that otherwise mightíve been left more esoteric. Some might consider it an act of handholding to contrast the dream imagery with the characterís waking state so directly but, in a film that uses so much surrealism, it helps keep the film dramatically focused. Even though is takes longer than usual for the narrative to emerge in the beginning, A Quiet Place in the Country
is never less than fascinating in its opening scenes.
Too bad the he story isnít as good as Petriís direction.
Credit where due: the film is willing to go to some pretty dark places in the psychosexual realm. When it introduces the supernatural elements, however, the film is less convincing. The film is compelling as long as the focus is on Ferri and his mental state, but it never transitions from a psychological thriller to supernatural one and the climactic sťance feels horribly tacked on. There is a possible narrative excuse, and the negative impact of this tonal shift may be negated over repeat viewings but, on first go round, it nearly hamstrings the picture.
Thereís a scene of violence near the end that is genuinely shocking, though that probably has a bit more to do with the fact that it occurs so abruptly and out of left field. Itís an intense scene but because of the weakness of the third act, it doesnít quite have the impact that it was probably intended to. Dramatically, the story just never crescendos the way I kept hoping it would. The film builds tension and suspense in the beginning but sags for the middle section. It manages a late rally in the last act, though it tries too hard to pull the rug out from under you by piling on a series of prosaic twists. Instead it just peters out at the end. If the second half of the film were strong as the first, weíd be talking unseen masterpiece instead of interesting obscurity.
Another element that doesnít quite ring true is Neroís performance as an artist. Iím not talking about his mental state, which is convincingly portrayed, but by the nitty-gritty details of actually producing art. The filmmakers donít seem to have a strong idea of the process artists employ that actually produces a piece of art. When Nero paints, he moves with random frivolity and without a sense of purpose. Itís as if the painting scenes were totally improved. Thereís no convincing portrayal of the artistic process. Iím sure there are artists that work in that fashion but theyíd likely be so inconsistent in their output that theyíd never be able to reach the level of acclaim that Ferri supposedly has achieved.
If my evaluation sounds overly negative itís because the film started off so well that for it to end in such a mundane fashion feels like a huge disappointment. The fantastic opening scenes almost carried me right through the floundering midsection, and even after the film is done I still feel compelled to make excuses for it. Maybe the kind of familiarity that can only come with time will unlock buried secrets within the narrative. I certainly look forward to finding out.
After consistently being impressed by the quality of the transfers for MGMs manufacture on demand discs, comes one instance where the usual disclaimer about the picture not being remastered in any way is appropriate. Though the transfer itself is just fine, the source material is in pretty rough shape. The opening credits exhibit abundant scratches though, honestly, given their stylistic nature Iím not sure if thatís intentional or not. The picture otherwise looks clean, if somewhat muted and soft. The primary color heavy visuals donít really pop in the way youíd expect, especially in a movie about an artist, though black levels are relatively strong and detail is consistently good throughout the film. The beginning of the second reel shows a significant amount of damage that continues for more than a minute Ė tears, flaws and color and contrast instability. The film is relatively free of these sorts of defects until the end of the second last reel, when they pop up again. None of the defects present are all that surprising, but they do distract momentarily from the film itself.
Although package says that A Quiet Place in the Country
is presented in Italian with English subtitles, there is also a full English dub available. Like a lot of Italian genre films of the era, A Quiet Place in the Country
employs an international cast and it looks like the film followed to practice of having the actors speak their dialogue in their native tongue, only to be dubbed in post. As would be expected with this approach, and as Iím sure fans of Italian cinema are used to by now, the English dub audio tends to sound canned and artificial. The Italian audio is a bit punchier than the English dub Ė sound effects are much clearer and crisper, dialogue is more natural sounding and the score has more range. Regardless of the edge the Italian audio has over the English, both tracks are very good; no matter which one you pick, you will find little to complain about.
An interesting theatrical trailer (2:08) is provided. It fairly accurately conveys the off-kilter tone of the first act of the movie, but plays up the thriller elements so they seem more prominent than they are in the film itself. The Morricone cue they chose to set it to is aces. Nice.
Though the video quality is not quite up to the same level as some of MGMís other manufacture-on-demand titles, considering how difficult it can be to find pristine elements for older foreign movies, its flaws are still completely within the bounds of the acceptable. With a trailer, two languages and an optional subtitle track, A Quiet Place In the Country
is the most feature-packed of MGMís burn-on-demand titles that Iíve seen thus far.
Stylish and well crafted, with strong performances and an effective score by Ennio Morricone, A Quiet Place in the Country
unfortunately falls short of true classic status. Nevertheless, this is a house in the country well worth visiting. Thereís really great filmmaking on display here for fans of Italian genre cinema or those curious and willing to take the trip. The scads of nudity probably wonít hurt your enjoyment, either.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B
Supplements - C
- Running time - 1 hour and 46 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio
- English Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio
- English subtitles