Monday, April 05, 2010

Dellamorte Dellamore

Dellamorte Dellamore
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Italy/France/Germany, 1994
Horror/Romance/Drama, 105 min
Distributed by: Laser Paradise – Red Edition

Michele Soavi has always been an interesting director in my book, and one thing about him that is striking, is that each movie he made, the better they where! He started out as an actor in many a great genre movies working with the likes of Ciro Ippolito in Alien 2: On the Earth 1980, Lucio Fulci on City of the Living Dead 1980, Joe D’Amato in Caligula 2 1982, Ruggero Deodato in Atlantis Interceptors 1983 and Dario Argento in Phenomena 1985 – not to mention all the other Italian genre pieces he acted in without billing. It’s also the later two directors who would become somewhat of mentors for Soavi during the years to come.

Gradually he moved into working as assistant director and second unit on movies like D’Amato’s 2020 Texas Gladiators 1982, Argento’s Tenebre 1982, Lamberto Bava’s A Blade in the Dark 1983 and so forth. Eventually he became friends with Terry Gilliam and worked as second unit on both The Adventures of Baron Munchausen 1988, and The Brothers Grimm 2005. A collaboration and friendship that Soavi often refers to in his own movies where small winks at the movies he made with Gilliam are apparent.

Fairly obvious he was soon to take the step up to full-fledged director of his own. The music video The Valley, which features the song Bill Wyman wrote for Argento’s Phenomena. The video sees Jennifer Connelly walking around an old house as Bill plugs in his guitar to his amp and Argento directs the movie from behind the camera. It’s all honesty it's not too impressive, but a nice little documentation of the Phenomena production and behind the scenes footage.

Soavi followed this first video with the documentary The World of Dario Argento 1985, a study of his former colleague and mentor. Soavi’s first feature, Stage Fright (Deliria) 1987 is a violent generic Slasher film with all the Italian trimmings. Sex, death and gore come together in a terrific mix scripted by George Eastman, and was produced by Joe D’Amato through his Filmirage production company. The movie won the Fear Section Award at the 1987 Avoriaz Film Festival assuring that Soavi was a director to keep your eyes on.

From there on Soavi’s films became bigger and better in many ways, The Church (La chiesa) 1989 - a modern horror with Gothic influences, was written by several leading characters in the genre. Soavi, Lamberto Bava, Dardano Sachetti, and Argento all added to the script, even Nick Alexander wrote the English dialogue. Argento also produced the movie, and it saw his daughter Asia Argento in one of her first movie roles. The Sect (La setta) 1991– a modern, raw Italian take on the Rosemary’s Baby tale, was once again produced by Argento with the Cecchi Gori brothers, and scripted by Argento, Gianni Romoli and Soavi. The Sect is a great movie, although one would today perhaps have preferred Soavi to have stuck with the Pino Donnagio score completely and not used contemporary rock music by at the time popular bands. I find it a problem that several Italian horror films of the nineties suffer from those heavy metal, Goth and rock soundtracks, as they have aged quite a bit by today’s standards. Scores never go out of fashion.

Gianni Romoli was given a second shot at scripting a Michele Soavi flick with one of the best movies to come out of Italy at the time, the excellent Dellamorte Dellamore. Together with Tiziano Sclavi (more on him later), the two writers started to adapt Scvali’s novel of the same name for the big screen. Sclavi had previously written the dark comedy Nero 1992 directed by Giancarlo Soldi. Just like the original comic book, Dellamorte Dellamore keeps the laughter, even though dark and sinister, close at hand through out the movie. Even though the characters have different names and live in completely different location than the source comic, there’s no contradicting that Francesco Dellamorte is Dylan Dog. Change his name to whatever you want, he’s still Dylan Dog in my eyes.

Now to the movie. Dellamorte Dellamore is all about Francesco Dellamorte [Rupert Everett] a dark, cynical man who spends his time working as the caretaker at the Buffalora cemetery where his special task is to take care of the ” returners” who get up out of their graves after seven days and roam the cemetery.

He’s assisted by his dumb mute mate Gnaghi [François Hadji-Lazaro], who only ever say’s ”Gnah” as they keep the peace and the dead in their graves. Quite fed up with his task, but still pretty content, everything keeps on track and the everyday life of the two just simply shuffles on. But one day during a funeral, he spots the young wife of the recently deceased man being buried, and it’s a woman, simply referred to throughout the movie as She [Anna Falchi] who fills Dellamorte with emotions he has never felt before. These emotions have him loosing his way and becoming obsessed with the woman, plunging into dark territory indeed.

As in all great love stories – because you can read Dellamorte Dellamore as a dark comedic horror love story if you chose, which isn’t’ too far away from the main themes of all those comic books that it’s based on – there has to be an obstacle for the main protagonist to overcome in his quest, and without revealing too much “She” becomes a major obstacle for Dellamorte. She’s just buried her husband and doesn’t want to get involved with him, but carnal lust makes that a difficult decision and eventually after a great homage to Arnold Böcklin's key painting The Isle of the Dead - which was one of the paintings that kick-started the Romantic period of art history – She can resist no more. As they give in to their desires her husband returns from the dead, and taking a big bad bite out of her arm which will soon lead to her death, Dellamorte is faced with the first of many dilemmas he has to tackle throughout the movie, after all it is his job to kill the returners.

The twists and turns taunt Dellamorte and he finds himself standing face to face with She in several incarnations, and the strong emotions he holds towards She make him do some terrifying, hilarious and surreal actions. Theses actions and the complex love affairs eventually drives him over the edge and makes for a great twist ending. An ending that readers of the comic book source will cherish as it makes perfect sense in the Dylan Dog universe.

One theme that is recurrent through out the movie is the relationship between Death and Life entwined. Lost lovers return – both from the grave, and in new incarnations, new lovers die – both at the hand of the dead and by the hand of the living, and Dellamorte is caught up in-between them both, which is also illustrated through his frequent meeting and dialogue with death, and the most obvious being his name Dellamorte - even though it's his mother who is called Dellamore Dellamorte the name is translated to "of love (life), of death".

The red haired death puppet is just one of those regular Soavi winks towards Terry Gilliam – The death figure is the same animatronics as in Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – on which Soavi worked as second unit on – there’s even a Baron Munchausen keying in a shot seen in The Sect if you want further examples of the referrals.

There’s a fantastic circular movement that wraps around the movie; during the opening credits there’s a snow globe that shows Dellamorte and Gnaghi standing on a wrecked bridge, as the movie comes to an end we are once again shown the snow globe, but pay attention and you will notice that the figures are on opposite sides to where they where standing in the first shot. It’s fair to imagine that the two will have further adventures together which will once again see the two of them change places and roles with each other. And this is also a theme that is recurrent in the Dylan Dog comic books.

Dellamorte Dellamore is in many ways Soavi’s finest hour, as everything that he’s picked up along the way, be it as an actor, assistant director, second unit or from the guidance of the magnificent mentors that have acted as producers on his movies to till this one, is brought to it’s peak. Wonderfully told, an engaging story, great effects and some stunning imagery that certainly must have had Dario Argento, Aristide Masseccesi and Terry Gilliam satisfied that there protégé obviously had been paying attention through out the years.

The movie walks a fine line between horror and dark comedy, and that’s not too surprising as the movie is based on Tiziano Sclavi's novel Dellamorte Dellamore, which also has a lot of humour in the darkness. Sclavi wrote this novel several years before he refined the character into the dark hero character found in the splendid Dylan Dog comic books, for whom Everett actually served as the main inspiration for.

But Everett, in the movie shape, pulls it off like clockwork and is everything that the illustrated original is, and as the movie ponders into the final quarter it takes on an even bleaker tone, that makes it stand out among the contemporary flicks that where being made at the time. The dark cynicism of the comic book shines trough and I’m glad that it does because this could have been such a bad movie if one had made the decision to develop the characters into something else than those of the fantastic comic book. There’s currently a new Dylan Dog movie in the making, Kevin Munroe’s Dead of Night which I’m certainly looking forward to, but at the same time I’m very sceptical towards as I don’t really feel that they will manage to keep that authentic Dylan Dog aura to the characters. There’s not to many US produced dark comedies that let the protagonist stay as complex as Soavi’s Dellamorte actually is, and I fear that they will make him more Twilight likeable than the complicated character he is supposed to be.

After Dellamorte Dellamore, Soavi ventured into directing TV movies and sort of vanished of the radar for a few years, but reminded his audience that he was still a key figure with the excellent thriller The Goodbye Kiss (Arrivederci amore, ciao) 2006, and the WW2 drama Blood of the Loosers (Il sangue dei vinti) 2008, which reunited him with Screenwriter Dardano Sachetti. But I feel that Dellamorte Dellamore is the crown jewel of his career, and I was lucky to see the movie on the big screen during the Stockholm Film Festival in the nineties – it’s still one of my favourite films and festival experiences – and revisiting the movie all these years later I still found it a very entertaining little movie that has stood up against the tests of time with bravura.
Widescreen 1.85:1

Dolby Digital Surround English Dialogue or German Dub available. German subtitles optional
Trailers for Laser Paradise Discs and a Horror Trailer show for horror related titles that they released on DVD.


Nostalgia Kinky said...

One of my favorite films and I am so jealous you got to see it on the big screen. Great post and terrific screenshots.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Thanx Jeremy.

Remedial Gash said...

Um, I adore this film, but didn't Soavi piss off because his wife was dying? Or at least had a serious illness...

I love dellamorte/cemetary man - but I think that Michel had a reason to disengage for a bit.


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