Directed by Tinto Brass in the wake of the Caligula debacle and prior to his reinvention as a purveyor of sophisticated erotica, Action comes across in the main as something of a throwback to his more pop / avant-garde films of the 1960s such as Yankee and Cul cuore in gola.
The main difference, however, is that whereas those films engaged with genre and filone cinema in the form of the Italian style western and thriller, Action seems more of an attempt to respond to the such art films of the time as Bertolucci's Partner, Godard's Weekend and Pasolini's Uccellacci e uccellini, infused with a touch of 1970s punk spirit reminiscent – if almost certainly not consciously derived from – Jarman's Jubilee.
Anarchy in the UK
As such, the results are something of a deliberate mess, albeit an intermittently entertaining and provocative one.
Luc Merenda plays Bruno Martel, an idealistic young actor working on a curious looking gangster movie – curious insofar as he dresses and acts like an American gangster whilst the cops pursuing him are London bobbies – who walks off the set and goes wandering through the literal and metaphorical wasteland, searching for existential meaning.
In the course of this ballade or bildungsroman – choose your frame of reference – he encounters Garibaldi; his co-star Doris and her double Ofelia; a group of menacing punks; the inhabitants of a Snake Pit style madhouse; witnesses his co-star being forced to defecate on cue and on camera; and, possibly most memorable of all as an image, a decidedly surrealistic and oneiric group of formally attired men and women with penises and vaginas for noses and mouths respectively.
Brass's genital faced figures
Rene Magritte's Le Viol
Two of the Chapman Brothers' figures
The presence of Adriana Asti references another likely source of inspiration in Bunuel's The Phantom of Liberty – and thus, perhaps, a further vague justification / rationale for the sadistic defecation scene, given its memorable vignette where defectation is public and eating is private – whilst genre fans will delight in John Steiner's appearance as Merenda's manager and the casting of Suspiria's Susanna Javicoli as Doris / Ofelia.
That the viewer must endeavour to tease out such meanings is, of course, the whole crux of how he or she is likely responds to Action beyond simple knee jerk reactions that it is misogynistic or tasteless, as the feminist and bourgeois responses respectively.
Is it just bad?
Is it only bad by the selfsame conventional standards Brass wants his audience to (re-)(re-)re-examine?
Is it a bad example of its particular type of filmmaking, inasmuch as it seems to have little that is particularly insightful or original to actually say?
And then, if the last of these – not entirely incommensurable – possibilities is the case, could this potentially be the point, as a joke targeted at contemporary avant-garde types?