Appellate Judge Dan Mancini is angry he didn't love this arty Italian omnibus.
The innocents will be condemned.
Four Italians and a Frenchman make a movie. This isn't the first line of a dirty joke. It's Love and Anger, an anthology film with contributions by Carlo Lizzani (Chronicle of Poor Lovers), Bernardo Bertolucci (The Dreamers), Pier Paolo Pasolini (Mamma Roma), Mario Bellocchio (Leap Into the Void), and Jean-Luc Godard (Contempt).
Facts of the Case
Love and Anger (Amore e Rabbia) is comprised of the following five short films:
• La Sequenza del Fiore di Carta
• Discutiamo, Discutiamo
Disunity is the scourge of anthology films. The idea of a group of directors with individual styles and preoccupations coming together to produce an omnibus whose power is strengthened by a delicate combination of unity and diversity sounds much better on paper than it usually is in the actual execution. Love and Anger suffers from an association between its segments that is so loose it often feels as though the individual filmmakers are competing for our attention rather than working cooperatively. Originally to be called Vangelo '70, the film was to offer segments loosely based on stories or ideas found in the Gospels. In the end, loosely seems to have been the operative word. The final film is organized so that each segment is more detached from the original organizing principle than the one that preceded it. Moreover, Manifesto '70 might have been a more apropos title because all of the segments are more interested in the application of Marxist politics in the world of the late '60s than they are in the New Testament.
The feature kicks off with Carlo Lizzani's L'Indifferenza, which is
the only one of the segments that strictly adheres to the original plan, riffing
on the parable of the Good Samaritan. It's the only of the short films that
presents anything approaching a traditional narrative, yet it is marred by
awkward editing that seems to want to make it more abstract than it is. The
courtyard rape of the woman and cityscape shots of haves and have-nots ought to
reinforce the thematic content of the criminal's rescue of the couple injured in
a car accident, which is the most narratively compelling thread in the film.
Instead, the criminal's story is pushed to the last half of the segment, forced
to share equal space with the far less interesting rape (less interesting
because its characters are flat and emotionally distant, though it is narrative
in form), while the shots of vagrants are used to punctuate themes and ideas
that are already far too obvious. The structural awkwardness of Lizzani's
segment is disappointing, but it's not the piece's fatal flaw.
L'Indifferenza is undone by the fact that its parallels to the Good
Samaritan are too concrete, and that its maker seems to believe he's saying
something more penetrating and complex than he actually is.
Agonia's connection to the original Gospel conceit is tenuous, but it does exist. Among the hippies' semi-abstract pontifications is a recitation of the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13. One of the darkest of Christ's parables, it deals directly with repentance, the real-world bearing of spiritual fruit, and of judgment. Understanding the parable is key, to a certain extent, to making sense of the troupe's ravings at the dying man played by Beck. The use of the parable suggests a life wasted, and the content of the hippies' charges against the dying man suggest he lacked compassion, and that he was a politically-obtuse square (as opposed to an enlightened member of the counterculture). When the actors eventually dress Beck's limp, frail body in papal robes, it becomes all too obvious that their castigation has been directed at the church in the Rome. I suppose this final revelation is supposed to be received by us like a cold splash of water to the face, waking us from our collective cultural sleep. Instead, it comes off as juvenile.
La Sequenza del Fiore di Carta and L'Amore—by Bertolucci's mentor, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and one of his greatest influences, Jean-Luc Godard, respectively—are thematically related in their exploration of the sin of innocence in a politically-driven world. I suppose one could read this as a refutation of Christ's command to have faith like children, thus connecting the segments back to the feature's original Gospel conceit, but that's a stretch. In truth, both Pasolini and Godard seem to have followed their own muses with little regard for the feature's unity or coherence. The two shorts take vastly different approaches to exploring their shared theme, though—approaches in perfect keeping with each of the filmmakers' styles.
Pasolini juxtaposes images of innocence and political turmoil, through the use of superimposition, in order to declare his theme as directly as possible. The simplicity of his presentation avoids the obviousness of Lizzani's piece by stripping away narrative elements and getting to the heart of the matter by way of pure and powerful images. Pasolini's message isn't new, yet the directness of his declaration does have an artful elegance.
Though it shares ideas with La Sequenza del Fiore di Carta, Godard's L'Amore couldn't be more different in its construction. The short is self-reflexive to the extreme ("Perhaps they're the first images of a film…maybe a J.L. Godard film," a couple says while observing young lovers). Godard takes the opportunity to explore the state of cinema alongside his musings on the implications of political innocence ("The cinema is dying," says one character, to which another responds, "Cinema doesn't exist yet."). The dual themes of cinema and political innocence unite in Godard's assertion of the insufficiency of film as a force for political change, its disconnectedness from truth. This intellectual dissection is language-focused, anti-cinematic. Much of the short is comprised of a couple sitting at a table, conversing. They speak in both Italian and French, very often repeating each other in translation so that it becomes difficult to assess whether their communication is substantive or merely a language lesson—which is most important, the words they speak or the ideas those words contain? Is there any such thing as communication, or is it all an illusion? And in the midst of these intellectual abstractions, Godard—as if tricking us with sleight of hand—plants a very obvious metaphor in the young lovers, who at first engage in political conversations of their own, but wind up nude and relaxed, as though they've regressed into the Garden of Eden. They're innocents, free from the weighty troubles of the couple who observe them. This might make a happy ending if Godard's politics didn't explicitly condemn innocence. As it stands L'Amore is a Chinese fingertrap of a film, snaring us at both ends of the innocence/self-conscious continuum and refusing to set us free.
The final segment, Marco Bellocchio's Discutiamo, Discutiamo, is the weakest of the lot. In the director's defense, he was brought in at the last minute to replace Valerio Zurlini (Girl with a Suitcase), whose piece, according to Richard T. Jameson's liner notes, sprawled into a feature film. In his interview on Disc Two of this set, Bellocchio talks extensively about how uncomfortable he was with his segment—in part because he was growing disillusioned with the politics it espoused. Set in a contentious university lecture hall, Discutiamo, Discutiamo isn't much more than a recitation of rudimentary elements of Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto. On the plus side, it's more playful than the other segments. There's a light humor in the fiery interaction between the two groups of students, as though the actors aren't taking the proceedings all that seriously. This vital humanity, which drives (and nearly comments ironically on) the political rhetoric is a result of Bellocchio's use of real students instead of professional actors. It's a foundation that saves the piece from being insufferable, though it's still hopelessly inferior to the other shorts.
NoShame's DVD release of Love and Anger offers a decent 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are natural and fully-saturated, and there are few source flaws like scratches or pock-marks. Grain levels vary depending on the shot, but aren't unreasonable considering the age and origin of the source. The transfer appears to be ported from a PAL master produced for a European release, and exhibits some of the ghosting and artifacts common to PAL-to-NTSC conversions. None of the flaws are deal breakers, though.
Audio is two-channel mono in Italian (for the most part), with optional English subtitles provided. The track has the flat ambiance and limited dynamic range common to Italian features. These flaws are entirely source-based. NoShame's done a fine job with the materials available.
This two-disc Special Edition of Love and Anger offers some decent supplements. In addition to the feature, Disc One contains a poster and stills gallery that runs as a 20-second featurette, set to a snippet of groovy music. It is the only extra on the first disc.
Disc Two contains Behind Love and Anger, an 80-minute retrospective on the film. The piece is built of four segments, individual interviews with Carlo Lizzani, Marco Bellocchio, Maurizio Ponzi (assistant director on Pasolini's segment), and Roberto Perpignani (editor of Bertolucci's segment). It's indexed into four chapters, and optional English subtitles are provided. The source is video, nicely transferred at about 1.78:1, and anamorphically enhanced for widescreen displays. The interviews provide a solid background on the film's genesis, and loads of detail about the individual segments discussed. What comes across best, though, is the sysophean nature of trying to keep five filmmakers with independent visions and sensibilities on task—hence Love and Anger's muddled mix of themes and ideas.
The insert booklet contains a brief but informative essay about the film by critic and editor Richard T. Jameson, brief biographies and selected filmographies for each of the directors, and historical notes on The Living Theater.
Love and Anger is a mess of an anthology film. Pier Paolo Pasolini's and Jean-Luc Godard's are the only of the shorts that succeed artistically, meaning over half of the feature is a bust. That said, art film aficionados and fans of post-neorealist Italian cinema will want to give it a look…as will Marxists, I suppose.
Love and Anger is innocent. And by innocent, I mean guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: NoShame Films
• Behind Love and Anger Interviews
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