Director: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani
Screenplay: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Lea Massari, Mimsy Farmer, Laura Betti, Claudio Cassinelli, Benjamin Lev, Renato De Carmine, Stanko Molnar
Country: Italy
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1974
BBFC Certificate: 15

Italian filmmaking siblings Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (a.k.a. the Taviani brothers), were worldwide critical darlings during the late 70s and 80s after they won the Palme d’Or and the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Padre Padrone in 1977. They followed this up with several more highly respected titles, including The Night of the Shooting Stars and Kaos, helping cement their names in the pantheon of great arthouse directors.

However, as the 80s made way for the 90s, their stock gradually fell and their films made less of a splash outside of Italy, other than Caesar Must Die in 2012, the penultimate film the brothers made together before Vittorio’s death in 2018.

Perhaps more unfairly neglected outside their home country though are the films the brothers made before their breakout success with Padre Padrone. This was by no means their first film. They’d been directing shorts since the 50s and features since 1960.

Allonsanfàn, a film the Tavianis made in 1974, directly prior to Padre Padrone, is one such title that has been relatively forgotten outside of its home country, due largely to a lack of availability, particularly English-friendly releases.

Looking to remedy that are Radiance Films, whose manifesto seems to involve a quest to unearth as many hidden gems as possible. They’ve set their sights on Allonsanfàn and are releasing a handsome new restoration of the film on Blu-ray. I got hold of a copy and my thoughts follow.

The film tells the story of Fulvio (Marcello Mastroianni), a middle-aged aristocrat who served in the Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars. At the start of the film, he’s released from prison, though the authorities have spread a rumour that he sold out the leader of the revolutionary group he was part of, the Sublime Brothers.

As such, his former comrades abduct him as soon as he leaves the prison. Thankfully, for Fulvio, their leader is found to have committed suicide rather than been arrested and he’s let off the hook.

However, after resting at his sister Esther’s (Laura Betti) mansion to sleep off a nasty illness he contracted in prison, Fulvio begins to have second thoughts about rekindling his revolutionary ways. The creature comforts and calm family life there are too tempting so, when his former lover Charlotte (Lea Massari) returns and talks about using the mansion as a meeting place for the Sublime Brothers, he despairs and attempts to talk her out of it, asking her instead to consider getting their son back from his adopted parents and living together in the U.S.A.

Sadly, the Brothers indeed show up at the property but Esther had heard of their coming and called the authorities in advance. In the ensuing chaos, Fulvio ends up running away with a badly injured Charlotte, who dies soon after.

Fulvio reunites with his son, Massimiliano (Ermanno Taviani, a relative of the directors) and once again experiences the sort of life he longs to live. However, the remaining members of the Sublime Brothers appear once again and drag him back to their world.

The film goes on from here, with Fulvio concocting various ways to back out of the brotherhood before inevitably getting sucked back in.

I will freely admit that my knowledge of politics and history, particularly that of Italy, is pretty minimal. As such, there are elements of Allonsanfàn that went over my head. However, it’s a wonderfully rich film, with much you can mine or simply enjoy both under and on the surface.

Looking at the latter, I found Allonsanfàn to be strikingly beautiful from the offset. The wides, in particular, are beautifully composed and great use is made of locations, their shape and space. Colour is put to stunning use too, particularly red. The significance of colours are, in fact, brought up in an early scene, where Fulvio and his family discuss how he used to attribute particular colours to particular people. To emphasise this, in one of the few fantastical sequences in the film, we see those sitting at the table ‘become’ their colours.

Allonsanfàn is not only visually impressive though. It sounds gorgeous too, with a wonderful, often grand and varied score courtesy of the great Ennio Morricone. In fact, the repeated ‘Rabbia e tarantella’ theme from the score is probably better known than the film, having been included in a number of compilations as well as appearing on the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

The Taviani brothers reportedly considered careers in music before getting into film and their backgrounds are reflected here. Morricone’s music and adaptations of folk songs are put to great use in a few dance numbers, one of which crops up quite unexpectedly in an audacious fantasy sequence in the final act. The film, in general, has something of an operatic quality too, in the use of music that rarely hides in the background, as well as some rather melodramatic narrative developments.

Away from the stylistic elements, another valuable asset to the film is Marcello Mastroianni as our central protagonist. He’s perfectly cast. In the wrong hands, the character might have been too unlikeable, given some of the dastardly things he does to his former friends to fulfil his selfish (albeit relatable) desires. His charm and ability to perfectly express Fulvio’s frustrations help keep the film wonderfully human.

Also preventing Allonsanfàn from getting bogged down in politics and melodrama is a subtle vein of humour. There are mildly farcical elements playing alongside satire, making for a film that’s as enjoyable as it is intelligent.

So, overall, Allonsanfàn is a rich, unique and strikingly cinematic treat. A gem that truly deserves to be unearthed.

Film:

Allonsanfàn is out on 26th February on region A&B Blu-Ray, released by Radiance Films. The transfer looks great, with a detailed picture and pleasingly natural textures and colours. There are a couple of soft-looking shots here and there, but these are likely as originally produced. I’ve used screen grabs throughout this review to give you an idea of how it looks, though these have been compressed.

I had no issues with the audio either, with Morricone’s score coming through particularly beautifully.

* Please note, this is a single pressing release. Unlike Radiance’s usual limited editions, a single pressing will not be re-issued as a standard edition. This is the only pressing made and it will be deleted once sold out.

LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES

– New 2K restoration of the film from the original negative, presented on English-subtitled Blu-ray for the first time in the world
– Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
– Audio commentary by critic Michael Brooke
– Archival interview with the Taviani brothers by critic Gideon Bachmann in which they discuss filmmaking approaches, the role of the director, the future of cinema and more (57 mins)
– Original trailer
– Newly translated English subtitles
– Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
– Limited edition booklet featuring new writing by Italian cinema expert Robert Lumley and a newly translated contemporary interview with the Taviani brothers
– Single pressing of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings

​​Michael Brooke discusses why he feels Allonsanfàn is an unfairly neglected classic in his commentary. The track is rich with insight into the film, its history, politics and its reception on release and beyond. Rarely pausing for breath, Brooke delivers an incredibly dense commentary that should be required listening for anyone who wishes to fully appreciate the film and its myriad qualities.

The interview with the Taviani brothers and a few other Italian filmmaker contemporaries plays in audio only. Being in Italian, unless you speak the language, you have to watch a black screen whilst reading subtitles, which is an odd experience. The interview offers an intellectual debate about Italian cinema at the time and what ideas and themes, if any, the group share, on top of whether or not the filmmakers feel they need to tackle social issues in their work. I found the piece got off to a wobbly stand-offish start but I was drawn into the debate as it went on. There’s a particularly interesting moment where one of the speakers talks about how the ability of audiences to be able to ‘take a film home’ could change the way the films they made were consumed and appreciated. Coming before even the video age, it’s a wonderfully prophetic thought and, amusingly, one of the other speakers calls the idea of people playing magnetic tapes at home ‘science fiction’!

I haven’t been sent the booklet to comment on that, but the Radiance booklets I’ve read so far have been valuable supplements to the films.

Overall then, Radiance have done a fine job in giving Allonsanfàn a much-deserved second life on Blu-ray. Get it bought before this single pressing goes out of print.

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About The Author

Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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