Friday, April 5, 2013

Requiescant (aka Kill and Pray)

Director: Carlo Lizzani
Starring: Lou Castel, Mark Damon, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Barbara Frey

Dark, moody, amazing, curious, trippy, hypnotic, facinating; 'Requiescant' is all of these things and a good deal more. When I first became a fan of Spaghetti Westerns many moons ago, it was for their decidedly unorthodox approach to the genre. In many cases, they didn't much resemble Westerns at all (which for me is a good thing) and merely used the Old West as a backdrop to tell some violent, highly unusual and at their best hauntingly told stories, filled with bizarre and visually arresting imagery. This film may be the greatest example of that.

The film begins with the masacre of an entire village of Mexican peasants at the hands of deranged, sadistic ex-Confederate Officer, George Ferguson. The only survivor is a small boy, left for dead after a bullet grazed his head. Wandering the land in shock, the boy is discovered by a  religious family who pick him up and adopt him as their own. Fast forward a decade or so and now a grown man and going under the name Requiescant (Latin for Rest in Peace), he learns that the family's rebellious daughter (his 'sister') has left to join a traveling theater company. Promising to bring her back, Requiescant discovers quite by accident that he has a near supernatural ability with a pistol. He discovers his 'sister', now employed in a brothel owned by none other than Ferguson. As he attempts to free her, Requiescant eventually learns of his heritage and embraces his destiny. 

The ubiquitous Carlo Lizzani made precious few Westerns (his only other venture in the genre was the entertaining, though far more traditional 'The Hills Run Red') and that's really a shame as he proved here that he can make one that's as compelling (and certaintly as eccentric) as any of his genre peers (Leone, Corbucci, Tessari...). Among the film's highlights are a tense drinking/target practice sequence between Ferguson and Requiescant, Requiescant returning to the scene of the massacre and having his memory restored amidst dozens of skulls and bones (which has a faint Holocaust feel to it, though I'm not sure that was Lizzani's intention), a particularly inventive saloon duel using a pair of nooses (this may be the highlight of the film) and Ferguson's ultimate commuppance. Every sequence in the film is handled with great precision and assurance (though there's some awkward editing which suggests that several scenes were cut; I have heard that the original print ran several minutes longer than any being offered on home video and am very curious to know if this was the case).

Star Lou Castel brings a memorable quiet confidence to his portrayal of the title character. By all reports, Castel was a strange fellow who stayed in character throughout. Mark Damon (cast against type) delivers what may be the performance of his career as the somewhat sickly looking, faintly gay and almost vampiric Ferguson. It is one of the great perfs in the genre. There was considerable hoolpa over the appearance of director, writer, poet and overall eccentric, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Playing a Priest who is also in line with the Mexican rebels, Pasolini in fact, does not have much to do in the film as his character tends to float in and out of the picture, offering a few choice words and a gaunt stare.

'Requiescant' is an amazing viewing experience. It was one of those few times watching a movie where as soon as it ended, I wanted to watch it again, immediately. Not everyone is as enamored with this film as I am (I have read reviews that alternately have called it "silly" and "dull"). For me, it was positively mesmerizing. A favorite, to say the least.

Rating: 10/10

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