Italian maestros of the ’60s like Fellini and Antonioni still get plenty of lip service and screen time on the repertory circuit. Marco Ferreri is another story. Arguably the ideological pivot point between those twin peaks of paesan modernism, Ferreri liked to couple stark existential angst with over-the-top absurdity; who else could turn the grotesque spectacle of 1973’s La Grande Bouffe, in which four men literally gorge themselves to death, into a parable about society versus free will? Despite, or perhaps because of, Ferreri’s singularly messy mixture of baroque and bleak, his work is rarely revived—which makes BAM’s run of the director’s 1969 entry into what Pauline Kael termed the “come-dressed-as-the-sick-soul-of-Europe parties” subgenre all the more welcome.
There’s something awfully somnambulistic about the way that Glauco (Piccoli), a manufacturer of gas masks, glides through his gadget-filled home; he’s a protagonist who’s stuck on permanent autopilot. As the executive cooks dinner and exchanges vague pleasantries with his wife (Pallenberg), the sense of overwhelming modern ennui makes itself apparent. Then things start to become slightly cracked: Glauco paints an unearthed pistol with Pop Art polka dots. He drips honey on the back of the hired help (Girardot). Those who sense that something truly weird is brewing will nonetheless find what happens next shocking, made all the more unsettling by the movie’s flat-affect aesthetic. Even the ambiguous wrap-up (remember, the sea cures everything) detonates a no-exit joke in the character’s alleged liberation. The titular gangster isn’t the only one who’s dead; according to Ferreri, it was a condition shared by everyone who bought into the late-20th-century ideal of success. They just didn’t know it at the time.