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Days of Future Women Past: The Films of Marco Ferreri and Ornella Muti

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by Celluloid Liberation Front
August 10, 2012 4:01 PM
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"Tales of Ordinary Madness."
“I am half misogynist and half feminist.” -- Marco Ferreri

Visionary desecrator of social and cinematic conventions, insolvent genius of European cinema whose relative obscurity attests to his ominous and uncomfortable visions, Marco Ferreri's irreverent instinct and dark humour exposed the violent sanctimony of established values and order. Often accused of artistic slovenliness, Ferreri’s cinema combines philosophical density with popular vulgarity, while possessing a palpable and unchaste immediacy. He has been accused throughout his career of obscenity, misogyny, and gastric pornography (among other things). Both Bergmans, Ingrid and Ingmar, walked out of the Cannes’ screening of his infamous film "La Grande Bouffe." In honor of a prize awarded to Ornella Muti, the 2012 Locarno Film Festival screened three films by Ferreri starring the suave Italian actress: "La Derniére Femme," "Tales of Ordinary Madness," and "Il Futuro é Donna."

The Parisian suburb of Creteil is the desolate setting of "La Derniére Femme" ("The Last Woman"), where Gerard (Depardieu), a politically committed engineer, shares his life and apartment with his baby and Valerie (Muti), the local nursery school teacher. The couple’s apartment, supposedly the most intimate space for their passion, is the bare container of societal vices. Unable to love her, Gerard uses Valerie and her body to fulfil the marital duties of patriarchy as well as honoring the domestic impositions of modern life. Their bodies radiate an unearthly pallor incarcerated in the burdensome murk of their flat, devoid of any passionate life whatsoever. 

Muti’s languishing detachment and Depardieu’s tactless exuberance perfectly serve a film that explores the emotional jet lag separating the masculine from the feminine hemispheres. Ferreri measures the hetero-drive of male sexuality against long shots of an urban desert where sky and concrete have the same color and people are an alien presence. Fumbling between the old conjugal order and the incognita of a new one, Gerard redresses to physiological resistance, finding shelter in the penury of his penis. Trapped in a relational standstill traversed by his newborn son, Gerard emasculates himself with an electric knife. Caged in their suburban apartment, they are mere interpreters of a role assigned to them by an ignoble system exerting its control on minds and bodies, thoughts and urges.

"Tales of Ordinary Madness" is a loose adaptation of Bukowski’s "Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness," dwelling more on the melancholy of its author than its proverbial debauchery. Ben Gazzara walks a fine line between drunken indifference and devastating sensitivity, making his character a credible example of a frustrated existential creditor. We follow Bukowski/Gazzarra as he roams the gutters of society where rejects, deviants, and the defeated gather in front of yet another drink, the only thing that can deliver them from solitude. When a young prostitute (Muti) stumbles into his life, an authentic and fragile romance blossoms and rots, almost simultaneously. The film stares impassively into the abyss of silence dividing these two lost souls, as each of them tries -- and miserably fails -- to articulate their pain.

Beneath the blunt carnality binding the novelist and the prostitute together lies a mute love that cannot thrive. The young prostitute decides to close her body with a safety pin to make sure no one will get to her wounded heart, while the writer slogs to New York for an editorial deal, a life of cultured rituals, and polite hypocrisy, putting an end to his inspiration and the young woman’s life.

"Il Futuro é Donna" ("The Future is Woman") sits in what is reductively called Ferreri’s feminist period, though it clearly defies such a binary definition. It is set, like "La Derniére Femme," in an anonymous suburb, in Italy this time, far from the ossified glamor of the city. Anna (Hanna Schygulla) and Gordon (Niels Arestrup) meet Malvina (Muti), a pregnant woman who is being harassed by a group of men in a nightclub. With nowhere to go, the couple invites the young woman to stay over for the night at their place. Gradually, Anna and Malvina develop a close, morbid relationship that will initially alienate Gordon but eventually turns into an asymmetrical platonic triangle. 

Ferreri understands and films the peripheral centrality of one of the first shopping malls that would soon pollute the Italian landscape. Anna works in the "cultural" department of the concentration consumer camp, which, as her boss reminds her, accounts for only 0.5% of the total revenue. She projects images of Hiroshima and Weimer Germany films on the wall of her office and commissions two giant busts of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich for the supermarket. A truck carries a huge tree to be planted in front of a discount supermarket in the middle of a projects-like neighborhood; Anna, Gordon, and Malvina sit on its branches and rave about an impossible enlarged family.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Ferreri’s work refuses to age. On the contrary, it feels more relevant as the symptoms he had presciently captured grow into social diseases and mass pathologies. The Locarno Film Festival offered a valuable occasion to see a small portion of the oeuvre of an unorthodox and prophetic master of cinema whose films remain largely and criminally unknown to the public. 

Celluloid Liberation Front is a multi-use(r) name, an "open reputation" informally adopted and shared by a desiring multitude of insurgent spect-actors. For reasons that remain unknown, the name was borrowed from a collective of anti-imperialist blind filmmakers from the Cayman Islands. This piece is part of Indiewire's Critics Academy at the Locarno Film Festival. Click here to read all of the Academy's work.

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