Tony Matelli chooses classic film as last installment in ‘Artist’s Picks’ series
By Victoria Uren ’17
“Isolation in a chamber where external communication is impossible because the atmosphere is deadly, in a chamber where it is necessary to wear a mask to survive, is very reminiscent of the living conditions of modern man.”
Nothing really happens in “Dillinger is Dead.” At least, not on the surface.
Marco Ferreri’s 1969 masterpiece unfolds instead in elliptical whispers. The plot is simple, and the dialogue laconic, yet the film’s quietness allows Ferreri’s mastery to glow. Without conversation, we are made instead to register where the silences fall. It is in both the literal and metaphorical silences that the film gleans its meaning.
At the basest level, “Dillinger is Dead” is about [spoilers ahead, though really, no words can ruin the experience of watching this film] one night in one home, where a man kills his wife. Go into more detail and you have something resembling a story. The film is the tale of an unnamed gas mask designer, though his occupation is somewhat unclear, who comes home to a cold dinner and a lethargic wife. By chance only, he finds a gun in the closet while cooking dinner. The unnamed man, who the script reveals to be called Glauco, plays with the gun, watches old home videos, commits adultery with a woman who lives in his house, kills his sleeping wife and again by chance boards a boat to Tahiti as its new cook.
The details of the narrative itself present us with notable points for interpretation; we can consider the role that chance plays in Glauco’s life. This is in many ways similar, though far more subtly explored, to the ideas in Woody Allen’s 2005 “Match Point.” However, this is not really where the film is most interesting.
The true success and beauty of “Dillinger is Dead” is in its rendering of the absurdity and strangeness of life. This is due, in part, to the cinematography: Ferreri flits artfully between the usage of a shakily-held camera and longer, static shots. These two conjure a delicate balance; there is enough of the former to suggest Glauco’s subjectivity, and this gives a taste of what it’s like to be this kind of person, to be a person. But the latter draws us away from him a distance that makes his later unmotivated actions feel all the more absurd.
The slowness of the film, undoubtedly a deterrent to many, especially those accustomed to the breakneck pace of contemporary Hollywood cinema, is another factor that adds to the film’s overall sense of futility. Moments between “moments” when the audience is forced to sit through the true quiet of Glauco cooking dinner, or in his car, or simply being, form the film’s backbone and are an essential part of its comment on the bourgeoisie middle class, on existential malaise and finally, on the inevitable ennui of being.
Of course, there is far more to the film than just that. Of particular note is the film’s exploration of fantasy: some of the most successful scenes are those of Glauco watching home video or recording his wife snoring. Here, he seems to be attempting to puncture the veil between himself and the world around him, to connect with something that assures him it is all real. There’s also the question of the film’s conclusion, of Glauco’s motivation and, possibly most interesting to Wellesley students, the misogynistic undertones regarding Glauco’s L’Etranger-esque murder of his wife.
“Dillinger is Dead” was the final film in Tony Matelli’s “Artist’s Picks” Collins Cinema series, and was screened this past Wednesday.