Thursday, 16 July 2009

Delitto a Oxford / Alba Pagana / May Morning

This is one of those films whose alternate titles give rather different expectations.

Delitto a Oxford, Crime at Oxford, suggests a giallo, perhaps something akin to the same year’s The Weekend Murders.

Alba pagana, Pagan Dawn, suggests more of a fantasy or horror film, perhaps still a mystery/thriller but one that will move into Nothing But the Night or Wicker Man territory.

In the event, Ugo Liberatore’s film is less a giallo or a horror film than a drama, though its denouement isn’t too far from being a more realist, 1970-set version of Society.

For, like Brian Yuzna’s film, what is explored here is a particular demi-monde where it is all about fitting in, with our protagonist being the one who does not.

Not only is Alessio Orano’s Valerio Montelli an Italian in this most English of settings, but he’s also from humble origins, attending Oxford University on a rowing scholarship. As such, he’s only of interest to his fellow students and his tutors as athletic commodity and for his value as an anthropological curiosity.

And anthropological curiosity is what the film comes across as today on account of its documentary style scenes of student life and hippie subculture circa 1970 along with a prominently featured and ear-pleasing folk / psychedelic rock soundtrack, each as a vision of England through Italian eyes. (Franco Montemurro’s The Battle of the Mods is also worth a look in this regard for its representation of the Liverpool scene of a few years earlier.)

Equally, however, the combination of entrenched social hieararchy and hippies doesn’t quite gel given the latter’s purported ideology, unless we see the film as a proto-punk critique that was advancing the “don’t trust a hippie” idea six or so years avant la lettre.

John Steiner plays the aristocratic villain of the piece, Rodney Roderick Stanton; Jane Birkin the potential love interest and Rosella Falk her vaguely Mrs Robinson-esque mother, each proving ideal for their respective roles.

Liberatore’s direction is energetic and quite stylish, with some nice use of mirror-based compositions to highlight the themes of doubling, distortion and representation.


Anonymous said...

I've been workig with some Oxford academics on a couple of projects over the last few years and in a way I think "anthropological curiosity" is still a fitting term - at least to a non-British person some of their habits, beliefs, and traditions (the ties, the actual reference to someone being from a particular class, etc.) are quite bewildering (nice guys though and I don't mean this to come across as some sort of rant against the British, the typical Oxford student always brings Arab Strap's "fucking little bastards" to my mind though).

Richard of DM said...

Was Montelli supposed to be a sympathetic character? Did Italian audiences actually care about what happened to him? I did like it when he dumped the beer on the floor and beat the living crap out of Roderick. But I couldn't connect with the character other than when he was being rebellious. Once he pushed things too far, the movie lost me.

K H Brown said...

Richard, I have to confess I watched the film in a somewhat distracted way and in Italian without subtitles.

I'd be interested in knowing how it works in terms of content (e.g. dialogue) and form (mise en scene), whether they support or undercut one another.

What's the distinction between Montelli's being rebellious and pushing too far? Is it perhaps a Satrean rebellion / revolution thing?

Whatever the case, that the film makes us think is good ;-)