Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Film Review: KEOMA (1976, Enzo G. Castellari)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Franco Nero (Nero is legendary: he's worked with Fassbinder, Bunuel, Castellari, and John Huston; he's played Jesus, Valentino, Versace, Django, and Lancelot!), Woody Strode (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, SPARTACUS, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE), William Berger (VON RYAN'S EXPRESS, DJANGO 2), De Angelis (soundtrack, THE LAST SHARK), Donald O'Brian (TROLL 3: QUEST FOR THE MIGHTY SWORD, INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, John Frankenheimer's THE TRAIN).
Tag-lines: None!
Best one-liner: "The world keeps going around and around. So you always end up in the same place."

Along with Sergio Corbucci's THE GREAT SILENCE, KEOMA is probably the best of the non-Leone spaghetti westerns. Enzo G. Castellari's not a mere rip-off artist; he's a true disciple of Leone's films (and of Peckinpah's), and he brings many more elements to the table: like EL TOPO, this western is mystical, philosophical, and vaguely psychedelic; like Argento's contributions to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (and his best giallos), the myriad flashbacks have a hazy, magical quality to them that is distinctly Italian; and, unlike most second-tier spaghettis, KEOMA's characters talk about their feelings (!) and the film possesses real emotional stakes.

I shit you not; the line being spoken right here is "You never gave us the affection you gave to him... And we were your real sons!"

In the midst of all of this is a barechested, grimy, hairy, and grizzled Franco Nero- his intense blue eyes and severe demeanor anchoring the film's disparate elements.

I hear a lot of complaining about the De Angelis soundtrack, but it has a purpose- it's a primal ballad, full of vocal shrieks and screeches that may not always be pleasing to the ear, but they certainly go a long way toward forming the bleak, savage atmosphere. Castellari's visual sense is at its peak in this film:

we're entreated to the POV of a target as it's shot at- large holes of light tearing themselves out of the screen;

the POV of Keoma's hand as he counts off the bad guys he's about to gun down;

and majestic slow motion as men are shot, punched, and thrown by the hair, their bodies plummeting into mud-entrenched puddles and engulfed by wisps of dust and sand.

There's a few classic Castellari moments, like the line "Ya overgrown papoose!" and more odd Italian references and depictions of gratuitous pissing (see also: TROLL 2, MONSTER DOG, etc.), but for the most part, this is a very serious film.

Classic obligatory Italian pissing scene. The man pictured above literally begins pissing on command onto Woody Strode's boots.

And check out this guy! (Joshua Sinclair.) Smug assholes abound in Castellari flicks.

But toss in the stern pathos of Woody Strode (pictured above), the complex family dynamics between biological and adopted sons, and a genuine thoughtfulness throughout (which is so rare in a film of this type), and KEOMA is truly a classic. Viva Castellari!

-Sean Gill

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