A rooster? Judge Jesse Ataide thinks this film would be better described as a turkey.
"You're out of touch after ten years."
St. Michael Had a Rooster could very well be the most awkwardly titled film I have ever come across. Unfortunately, the title serves as a fairly decent indication of the film itself: an awkward little film notable only because it was an early effort by Paolo and Vittoria Taviani (Padre Padrone), two of Italy's most respected directors from the last several decades.
Like Night Sun, which would follow years later, St. Michael Had a Rooster is based on a short story by Russian author Leo Tolstoy. The story of Guilio (Giulio Brogi, Spider's Strategem), an aristocrat who spurns his former life to help start a political revolution, it documents his capture during a failed demonstration and the decade-long imprisonment that follows. Most of the film takes place inside of Guilio's prison cell as he tries to combat his demoralizing solitary confinement by visualizing group meetings with his fellow revolutionaries, delivering impassioned speeches to his dark, empty cell.
After a long decade passes, Guilio is transfered to another prison. During the move, he comes across a group of young political prisoners (including, heaven forbid, a woman), who inform him that the direction of the revolution that he helped start has changed completely. Instead of being hailed as a glorious martyr as he has envisioned, Guilio realizes that the revolution has completely passed him by, forgetting him in the process.
The idea is certainly an interesting one, but unfortunately, the film doesn't do much with Tolstoy's story. Quite frankly, this film is dull, a little wisp of a movie that isn't really much of anything when it comes down to it. Though the last third, where Guilio has the life-changing encounter with the young patriots, is beautifully shot and includes some interesting emotionally-charged exchanges, it fails to become the epiphany moment that it should. Not helping matters is the Tavianis' signature slow pacing, which emphasizes the film's scant action, rather than the story's complex psychological undertones.
Wellspring presents St. Michael Had a Rooster in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, though the film's image suffers from numerous defects, including scratches and a general washed-out look (which doesn't do much for the film's generally unattractive early '70s orange color scheme). The Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian audio track is likewise weak, though thankfully, yellow subtitles in English are provided. Extras include the film's VHS release trailer, a trailer for other Wellspring releases (including Night Sun, Tarnation, Goodbye, Dragon Inn and Strayed), and a director filmography. Ho hum.
Fans of the Taviani Brothers' films are probably glad to have this film released on DVD, considering how few of them have made their way onto American home video over the years. Everybody else will probably skip it, and would be completely justified in doing so.
Like its main character, St. Michael Had a Rooster might have its heart in the right place, but the court finds it guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wellspring Media
• VHS Release Trailer
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