• BLAST FROM THE PAST: DILLINGER IS DEAD

    By David Thomson

    1182 framgrabe

    If Dillinger is dead, who will take revenge? There were movies once that began, “Custer is dead,” in which you could reckon that a lot of Indians were going to pay the price. This bizarre film by Marco Ferreri (only just released in the United States, forty years after it was made) is a most peculiar story about the way in which one man on the brink of alienation deals with his wife and his mistress and gets away to Tahiti as a ship’s cook on a three-masted schooner.

    The man is Michel Piccoli. He seems to be an executive at some chic factory that makes masks that will enable workers to function in toxic atmospheres. A colleague reads him an article asserting that the masks are a metaphor for dehumanization. Has everybody got the point?

    Dillinger Is Dead was made in that disgusted blast against advertising and the modern age that is also in evidence early in Godard’s Pierrot le fou, as the film travesties the language and languor of commercials. But whereas Jean-Paul Belmondo is a forlorn fighter in Godard’s great film, desperate to hold on to love, no matter that he only believes in lost love, Piccoli here is . . . well, he’s Piccoli.

    As an actor, or a screen presence, Piccoli always has the patient but bored air of someone in a rehearsal or a run-through. You feel like asking, Doesn’t he know he’s in a movie? But then you realize that his detachment is lovely and revealing. It amounts to an elegant, wistful despair.

    So he comes home from the factory, and Anita Pallenberg seems to be his wife. She’s in bed with a headache, and he goes downstairs for the dinner she has left for him. Somehow it’s inadequate, so he begins to cook another meal for himself.

    The whole film is his evening at home, cooking, watching movies on his home screen, and necking with Annie Girardot, who is the maid or his mistress, or both. Their thing is for him to lick honey from the ridge of her spine.

    Ferreri’s daydream is poised between the sinister and the absurd, and like the surrealism to which it aspires, its best moments are a smooth puree of both. But violence is building. The man finds a vintage revolver wrapped in an old newspaper reporting on Dillinger, and there is real newsreel footage of the gangster, who was shot coming out of a movie in Chicago. He cleans the gun, takes it apart, and puts it together as a sparkling red toy. You can’t believe there’s any power or danger to it. But there’s a surprise, and after that the man goes for a swim and finds the schooner that will take him to Tahiti.

    No, they don’t make films like this anymore—it’s full of the subversive mood of the late sixties. What’s unusual in Dillinger Is Dead is the grace and the nonchalance, and the shock is in the way the ease carries us into outrage. It’s a reminder of the great Luis Buñuel. See it while you can.

9 comments

  • By Mark
    March 04, 2009
    02:40 AM

    Cannot wait for this to be released. An absolutely mesmerizing film.
    Reply
  • By James "Pixote" Ramirez
    March 04, 2009
    04:26 AM

    HOLY SH*T! Ferreri is a true visionary! I'd never even heard of this until now. I can only pray that my local art house will be graced by this print. At least let it's acquisition by Janus be a sign that a Criterion disc will be in the works... and NOT a Kino disc!
    Reply
  • By Achilles Palmieri
    March 07, 2009
    12:46 AM

    I saw this film various times over many years, in Canada and Italy, it has always spellbinded me. The commentators above, Mr. Thomson included, have used the correct words - absurd, nonchalance, mesmerizing, etc. Let me echo, I hope Criterion comes out with the DVD.
    Reply
  • By Robert Monell
    March 09, 2009
    06:54 PM

    Great piece. I thought the NEW YORK TIMES review really was unfair.
    Reply
  • By Nick
    March 10, 2009
    10:27 PM

    I projected a screening of this film no too long ago. It was intermittently interesting and absurd, although I wouldn't put it with Buñuel's work - the nonchalance above is really just an ersatz for "kind of boring", and Buñuel is never boring.
    Reply
  • By Nick
    April 27, 2009
    09:29 PM

    I saw the screening of this film when Criterion brought it to the Telluride Film Festival a couple years ago. They did an amazing job remastering the old print, and it proved to be one of the most magical cinematic experiences I've ever had. Why haven't they released a DVD of this?
    Reply
  • By Milenko
    June 18, 2009
    06:15 PM

    I'm really happy about this release, and I agree that Manhola's NYT review is a very thin one. Films that deal with the present are always cracked and imperfect, and to some extent, angry. Ferreri even said, "[Dillinger] is a film that expresses my anger about society." And I think it's these imperfections that give Dillinger its aura offer such access and detail to the 60's inventory of objects that people lived with then. I might add that I it's an act of consistency to make a movie about a slow and repetitve life slow and repetitive. The thing is that in Dillinger the tempo and repetiton is enthralling and dreamlike as it is oddly realistic. I agree with the assessment that Ferreri's films read in the present the signs of the future, and "struck at the exposed nerves of a society that was always changing."
    Reply
  • By Milenko
    June 19, 2009
    06:04 PM

    I'd also like to invite everyone to check my English language resource of Ferreri's films. Contributions and pics are welcome. You can also become a fan on Facebook, I'm the admin of that page and it's a great way to keep in touch. Thanks! link: www.marcoferreri.weebly.com
    Reply
  • By Snaporaz
    March 10, 2010
    03:26 PM

    Piccoli, the man who knows how to pick his roles best… Added your dvd to my post here … http://snaporaz.posterous.com/2010-03-04-new-kore-eda-opens-offscreen-festi
    Reply

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