Sunday, 8 February 2009

Svegliati e Uccidi / Wake Up and Die

During the 1960s and 1970s Carlo Lizzani made a number of interesting genre films marked by a combination of solid entertainment, social comment and commitment, a logical extension of earlier neo-realist styled works such as Achtung Banditi and Cronaca di poveri amanti into the prime years of the filone cinema.

While preceded by Il Gobbo, about Rome resistance fighter and latterly bandit Alvaro Concenza, Svegliati e Uccidi - closer to Wake Up and Kill, rather than Wake Up and Die in English translation- marks an important step in the evolution of Lizzani's crime cinema, in engaging with contemporary Italian gangsterism rather than looking back to the 1940s.

The equivalent to Concenza here is petty criminal turned public enemy number one Luciano Lutring (Robert Hoffmann), another real-life bandit, Milanese rather than Roman, who became a respected writer and painter after his release from prison.

Lutring - whose name was also sufficiently well-known to be an alternative homonymous title for the film in Italy - is a complex character with obvious personal issues. First seeking to impress night-club singer Yvonne (Lisa Gastoni), whom he soon marries, he anaesthetises himself with drink and counters his feelings of inadequacy by carrying a machine gun he hardly knows how to use.

As an impulsive amateur rather than a professional, he emerges as something of the polar opposite of his counterpart in Bandits in Milan, Pierro Cavallero, who treats crime as a rational business like any other.

While Robert Hoffman is entirely satisfactory as Lutring the best performance in the film is probably that of Gian Maria Volonte, as his nemesis cum protector Inspector Moroni.

It's a testament to Volonte's abilities that while Moroni is very different from Cavallero in the later film, both characters are utterly convincing.

Moroni is also where the film gets even more interesting in political terms. In the Italian set portions of the film we see how he allows the media to focus on Lutring at the expense of other, actually more troublesome criminals whom he wishes to divert attention from and / or lull into a false sense of security, with a pragmatic emphasis on the either / or.

Ironically their number include one gang whom the naive Lutring brings a daring plan for a daylight robbery but who then decide to carry it out by themselves shortly before the arranged time in the hope that their erstwhile colleague will arrive just as the police do and serve as the fall guy.

The social commentary continues as Lutring flees to France, as different groups within the French police compete to be the ones who bring him to book, with predictable results.

Given all this, Lutring's position ultimately emerges as something of a riff on Peter Lorre's character in M, as a helpless figure whom everyone else, rather than wanting out of the picture, wishes to take advantage of.

Lizzani achieves a nice balance between modes in his direction, with enough style to avoid simply being a documentary and enough documentary to effectively convey the reality of the characters and their world as part of our own. This is perhaps best realised in the nightclub scenes, which are simultaneously realistic and expressive to convey a sleazy glamour, and the set-piece robberies, as a how (not) to do it guide.

Ennio Morricone's score is beautiful in its simplicity, building tension through the use of quasi-minimalist 'cells' of piano and percussion in the suspense and action sequences and expanding out for lush vocal numbers in the nightclub scenes.

Volonte's younger brother Claudio Camaso - if anything an even more intense performer - also appears in the film.


jonny said...

Great review Keith! I just uploaded an English language trailer for this film to youtube...

Anonymous said...

Thank you boys! This is very interesting as my name is Gary Lutring and my grandfather Miklos and Lucianos father Ignazzio were brothers!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where we can get the film with English subtitles? Would love to see it.

=) Gary Lutring