Director: Carlo Lizzani
Screenplay: Lucio Battistrada, Andrew Baxter, Adriano Bolzoni, Denis Greene, Edward Williams
Starring: Lou Castel, Mark Damon, Pier Paolo Pasolini
Country: Italy, West Germany
Running Time: 107 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
After re-releasing the ‘baguette western’ Cemetery Without Crosses, Arrow Video head back to Italy to bring us a true spaghetti western in the form of Requiescant. This is no cookie cutter entry to the genre though. Director Carlo Lizzani delivers a fairly serious film with more meat to chew on than most of its contemporaries.
Requiescant opens with the brutal massacre of a group of Mexicans at the hands of Confederate soldiers, led by the aristocratic officer George Bellow Ferguson. Tricked into a deal before their deaths, the Mexicans’ land is snatched by Ferguson and over the years he comes to rule the area, known as San Antonio. A small boy survives the massacre though and is found by a travelling preacher, who brings him up as his own son. The boy grows up to be a young man known as Requiescant, who ends up in San Antonio as he looks for his stepsister Princy who has run away in search of a more sinful life. She finds it in that town and ends up the property of Ferguson’s right hand man, Dean Light.
When Requiescant finds Princy, Dean is of course none-too-keen to give up his woman and doesn’t take kindly to the young dark skinned man (no one knows he’s Mexican to begin with). When Ferguson gets involved he surprisingly gives Princy her freedom, as he feels women are harmful to his best man. The landowner also takes a shine to Requiescant, believing he can use his freakishly good marksmanship abilities to his advantage. When these abilities seem to overshadow his own, Ferguson gets jealous though so, along with Dean’s anger, San Antonio doesn’t seem to be such a nice place for Requiescant and his sister to stay. As the body count grows and the truth of Requiescant’s heritage is revealed, the waters are further muddied by stirrings of revolution amongst the downtrodden Mexicans, pushed on by a mysterious group led by Father Juan (played by the controversial director Pier Paolo Pasolini).
I really enjoyed Requiescant, yet I’m finding it hard to put into words why. This is not because it’s a bad film that I found myself strangely compelled by, but quite the opposite. It’s because the film is so solid and effective that I’m finding it hard to pinpoint specific things that stood out. For instance, I’m a huge fan of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns largely due to how incredibly cinematic they are, but Requiescant isn’t as showily well shot or spectacular. It looks pretty good, but is never mind-blowing.
Requiescant isn’t as action packed as many spaghetti westerns either. There are a fair few gunfights and such, but for the most part the film is quite slow paced when compared to some of the more bloodthirsty entries to the genre. When the action set pieces do occur here they are very good though. The double bluff of the opening massacre is well handled, aided by Riz Ortolani’s excellent score. Two pivotal ‘games’ are the highlights though, both nail-bitingly tense and expertly edited. The first, ‘drink and shoot’, sees Requiescant and Ferguson take turns drinking heavily and shooting the flames out on a candle held by a Mexican maid. The second, ‘hangman’, sees Dean and Requiescant taking part in a stand-off with a twist – they’re both standing on stools with nooses around their necks and when the clock strikes twelve, they can shoot at their opponent’s stool. Adding an explosive climax and violent conclusion to the mix, the film has all the excitement you need, even if elsewhere the film isn’t in much of a hurry.
It’s the writing and how it’s handled that keeps you gripped. 11 people are credited as writers on the IMDb (4 only for story though and 1 uncredited), which is usually a sign of disaster. However, these multiple contributors seem to add extra substance to the film and Lizzani and whoever was in charge of the final draft of the script manage to juggle all the balls without ever dropping any. For a spaghetti western in particular it covers a lot of ground, from racial issues to religion to political revolution and even hints at homosexuality in Dean and Ferguson’s relationship. Reading about Lizzani in the Blu-Ray’s booklet, it turns out he began his career in the film industry working on neo-realist productions and was a keen follower of the movement, which would explain his desire to make more of a statement here rather than churn out another blood-drenched action movie.
It’s a fine example of the spaghetti western genre and one that proves that it wasn’t just Sergio Leone that could stand up to the Italians’ American counterparts. It may not be as obviously impressive on the surface as more well known titles, but it’s consistently well made, gripping throughout and exciting and cool when it needs to be.
Requiescant is out now on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Arrow Video. I saw the Blu-Ray version and, as is to be expected from the label, the picture and audio quality is excellent. I noticed a little mild damage in one or two scenes, but for the most part, the picture is spotless.
The notable special features include an all-new 14 minute interview with Lou Castel, recorded exclusively for this release and a substantial 28 minute archive interview with director Carlo Lizzani.
And as with all Arrow releases, you get a booklet in with the package, which is as informative as always.