Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Il Conto è chiuso / The Last Round

A mysterious stranger enters a town controlled by two criminal factions. After proving his abilities and learning who's who in the process, he plays them off against each other, before cleaning up those who are still left...

The drifter on the road

If The Last Round's scenario sounds familiar, it should. For the film is a contemporary update of A Fistful of Dollars set in a northern Italian town, with a revenge subplot involving a music box clearly derived of For a Few Dollars More – even as the protagonist's skill with a knife, which he prefers over the gun if he is forced to use something other than his fists for reasons of range, is more reminiscent of Yojimbo.

The music box and photographic memory

The stranger, Marco Russo, is played by Argentinean middleweight boxing champion Carlos Monzon, who understandably makes up for in physical presence what he may have lacked in acting ability.

The leader of one faction, Rico Manzetti, is played by poliziotti regular Luc Merenda, with his brothers and gang including such familiar filone faces as Gianni Dei and Gianfranco Cianfriglia.

Merenda shows his prowess with a gun, aiming not for the heart but a range of targets, including the left and right eyes.

The leader of the other faction, Belmondo (sic), is played by Leone regular Mario Brega. His faction is not as like the Baxters as Merenda's are the Rojos, in that he's neither the law in the town nor dominated by his wife – indeed, we never actually see his family.

Monzon demonstrates his skills

In the middle of all this are a blind girl and her adoptive father who live in a shack near a run down factory and provide Russo with information and assistance, and a second girl and her mother who kept prisoner by Rico Manzetti. They are played by Giampiero Albertini, Eleonora Fani, Annaluisa Pesce and Mariangela Giordano, the last of whose presence serves to also highlights the involvement of Gabriele Crisanti as executive producer and of his frequent screenwriting collaborator, the prolific Piero Regnoli.

I know the face, but not the name

While Luis Enrique Bacalov's imaginative and varied score also highlights the spaghetti western connection, the actual representation of the town and its two gangs has more in common with the poliziotto and Dashiell Hammett's 1929 novel Red Harvest, itself a largely unacknowledged reference point for Kurosawa and Leone's film alike.

Although we are told that the police have been bought off they never appear as an obstacle to Marco, a plot point which would perhaps have better emphasised the gangsters' power, although against this a magistrate who does make a public stand against them is almost immediately gunned down.

More generally the references to the running down of the city's industry, labour unrest and its heavily polluted atmosphere suggest a wider context not too far removed from that of Hammett's Poisonville.

Though certainly entertaining – the main issue, it must always be remembered – and stimulating – the secondary issue – I was not convinced that The Last Round's relocation of the Leone spaghetti to 1970s Italy really worked.

A nice re-imagining of the Leone corrida in a present-day settingthe two gangs in a sports arena, with Russo watching from above in the middle

The issue isn't so much with corrupt town, which one can easily believe in as an exaggerated version of an actual city in northern Italy at the time – though the selection of this is somewhat unexpected, given that the specific cultural framework of the spaghetti has been convincingly argued to be a southern Italian one by critics like Christopher Frayling – as the juxtaposition of two fundamentally different approaches to place, time and action or, to use Bakhtin's notion, chronotopes.

Marco belongs to the 'mythic' realm, where the single heroic individual can triumph through strength (the peplum film) and / or skill and guile (the spaghetti western) over seemingly impossible odds. These same impossible odds, as they are presented in the poliziotto context of The Last Round, however belong far more to the 'real' world (more so than the superspy films of the previous decade, as a form that cross-fertilised with the spaghetti western in certain ways), where they either cannot be surmounted or the hero's triumph is necessarily 'imaginary'.

This division is apparent in some other poliziotteschi, being highlighted by the traditional maverick cop on a one-man crusade as incarnated by Maurizio Merli, but it is also less pronounced because he is embedded in this same world. To put it crudely, he uses guns versus guns, not a knife or his fists. He can also be defeated, die, or achieve a victory that is partial or pyhrric.

It could also be said, however, that the distinctive combination of character and environment in The Last Round serves to make the imaginary aspect of its solutions to real problems more prominent than in 90 per cent or more of mainstream films, including most other poliziotteschi.

Mario Brega, looking a little like Lucio Fulci here

In real life, that is, the individual is arguably fundamentally powerless, or at least tends to have his or her capabilities overstated by the (non)powers that be for various reasons. (Just try to imagine a politician or party whose message was that they really had little or no control in the grand scheme of things.)

Stelvio Massi's direction is brisk and efficient, presenting a one-two combination of surprisingly elegant camera movements, especially in the studio-bound and interior sequences, and crash zooms. He also throws in some tricksy mirror shots as Russo and Belmondo meet for the first time, an approach which seems less showing off for its own sake as a externalisation of the duplicities inherent in the set up and Russo's character as a trickster hero.

The fight sequences sometimes make use of slow motion to highlight Monzon's pugilistic abilities, although the blows still sound like car doors slamming – realism, that is, is again limited by the higher priority of entertainment...

[The film is on Region 1 DVD from Noshame. The package also includes a CD of contemporary interpretations of 70s poliziotto music and a somewhat surreal extra in the form of a tour of Luc Merenda's antique shop]


Anonymous said...

The actor in the 6th capture ("I know the face, but not the name") is Nello Pazzafini.

K H Brown said...