Appellate Judge James A. Stewart would much rather have a Roman bag lunch.
"Don't they know that the artist is sacred?"
Vincent Van Gogh got the message clearly: artists don't get much respect. Gabriele (Franco Nero, Crimson Dawn) tries hard not to get the message, through a 1527 invasion of Rome and strange dreams about art criticism.
The Sack of Rome opens, somehow appropriately for a movie with a penchant for showing bare female breasts, on Gabriele's brushes and art supplies. Actually, that's appropriate for a pretentious movie with a penchant for showing bare female breasts. The first actual nudity comes as Gabriele, his model, and her brother take a bath—leaving viewers with the feeling that the actual characters were more titillated by the idea of clean water for a bath than nudity, since it seems more rare to them.
Soon, everyone's talking about the upcoming invasion by evil…Lutherans. Apparently, they're even cannibals, although eating human flesh is about the only barbarity that isn't at least implied when they actually show up. As far as I know, The Sack of Rome is the only movie to feature Lutherans as the villains (a small point of interest for me, a Lutheran).
Sure enough, the invaders turn up in the middle of the night, looking for gold, food, and chance to just make a mess. They've got wild hair and expressions which say they're bad news, even before they start ripping the clothes off women in the street—with the suggestion of worse goings-on. This isn't the sort of stuff you hear about in the News from Lake Wobegon, to put it mildly. I also will note that rape (attempted and implied in the movie) isn't something I—or my church—approve of, and it's rather nasty in the movie, even if it isn't actually shown.
One of the hairy, dirty invaders wants Gabriele to paint his picture, something he'd think twice about if he hadn't broken all the mirrors. He might also think twice as he listens to Gabriele spouting about art and beauty. "It's up to me to measure the beauty of your soul. Only me," Gabriele tells a potentially violent unwanted houseguest. He evidently thinks the brush is mightier than the sword.
Through all this, the Romans are looking hollow-eyed with fear and resignation, both from the brutality of the Lutherans and the bad dialogue. I suspect I'm the only viewer who actually read the subtitles to find out what Gabriele's talking about, but there aren't too many typos. One character even points out to Gabriele that this war stuff has been part of Roman life for thirty years, thus reminding us that the dialogue's meaningless.
Somewhere in there, Gabriele has a strange nightmare about the pope and his companions approaching to discuss their not-so-favorable opinion of his work, bearing torches as if he's Frankenstein's monster to emphasize their points. There's also a scene in which an invader is so desperate that he looks like he's about to make love with a statue, and it is oddly memorable, perhaps the most memorable scene in the picture.
The picture quality isn't great; flecks, spots, and lines abound. The picture itself is rather soft. The sound quality isn't bad, but isn't spectacular.
The extras consist of a brief photo gallery.
Um. yes, The Sack of Rome is a pretentious foreign film meant to titillate. Somehow, I thought it was an actual historic epic when I got the assignment list, but realized what it was from the artily (actually clumsily) suggestive DVD blurb when it arrived. I've never actually seen one of these before, but have edited enough DVD reviews to get the hints. Even the aspect ratio (full frame) has a cheapness about it. It also doesn't seem to turn up in Franco Nero's IMDb credits, which I'm sure the actor is grateful for.
I can't really moralize about The Sack of Rome. It's full of the kind of life-is-cheap nastiness that you see at times in Game of Thrones, which I have watched of my own accord, but the HBO series has a lot more going on than just titillation, and a lot more finesse. Game of Thrones also will likely one day prove to have enough actual story left for a broadcast-friendly version; I wouldn't say that of The Sack of Rome.
There are occasional touches of something more—it's at least suggested in the final scene that a horrifying experience gets Gabriele in touch with his humanity, which at least suggests there's an actual point—but The Sack of Rome is mostly about titillation. However, unless your life won't be complete without seeing Lutherans portrayed as villains on screen, there's not much else here. If Jack Bauer takes on a Lutheran conspiracy in the next 24 series, there won't be anything left here.
Guilty, but I knew that 3 minutes into the picture.
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