‘He’s the second best director of spaghetti westerns in the world,’ says Quentin Tarantino of Sergio Corbucci, the larger-than-life subject of an entertaining documentary that’s a proper tummy tickle for fans of the genre.
That statement, of course, is a big compliment from QT. There’s no touching Sergio Leone and his Dollars trilogy, but Corbucci occupies his own patch of bloody, muddy turf in western history. And Tarantino, who serves as an enthusiastic talking-head guide to his filmography, is present throughout to explain why films like Django and The Great Silence deserve to stand in the western pantheon.
As you’d expect, he fires out anecdotes, pet theories and plot breakdowns like a Corbucci hero with a Gatling gun. The Roman filmmaker, who grew up in Mussolini’s Italy, was zeroing in on fascism in many of his film’s nihilistic settings, argues Tarantino, and that subtext puts a steel casing of meaning on every flying bullet.
But of the two Sergios, why is one a cult favourite and the other seen as a revered auteur? Corbucci didn’t have the incipient stardom of a Clint Eastwood to propel his work into the mainstream. (Though he did set one Hollywood A-lister on their way: Burt Reynolds’s first lead role was as the nimble hero of Corbucci’s Navajo Joe).
Maybe, suggests Django & Django, the moral ambivalence of his films made them a harder sell too. Franco Nero, his answer to Eastwood, delivered inscrutable antiheroes with piercing blue eyes and variable morality: As Tarantino points out, Corbucci’s heroes would be the villains of other films. There’s no comfort or easy wins in a world in which anyone can die at any moment – or at the very least, have their ear unceremoniously lopped off (a Corbucci moment that Tarantino himself riffed on in Reservoir Dogs).
There’s an inevitable detour into Tarantino’s own feature-length homage to Corbucci, Django Unchained, though it’s blessedly brief.
Alongside Nero, who still looks like a movie star at 79, director Luca Rea ropes in a few other Corbucci collaborators to go with footage from his movies. The doc is bookended by two pieces of Tarantino rhetorical showboating, one which plunges deep into his own Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood lore, and the other offering his own theory about a never-seen character in Django.
Like much else in this affectionate celebration of the maestro, these are indulgent but entertaining. Let them be kick-off points for a deep dive into one of the most bloodily singular back catalogues in cinema.
Django & Django premiered at the Venice Film Festival.