I got the Cohen set because I could not wait or resist the great price. So far I've only watched The Night of the Shooting Stars, which is one of my all time favourite films and IMO one of the most underrated films of the 80s. I never understood why this film isn't better known or more highly regarded, though Pauline Kael gave it a rave review at the time. That said, it's a film which probably gets better on revisiting it. On a first viewing it may look a little shapeless, but I think it is anything but. Its seemingly shaggy, episodic quality fits the randomness of death and violence visited upon civilians in war. The film is full of great visual conceits, which at times reminded me of Hitchcock in their visual boldness, like a scene where the camera moves in on several character's ears, listening from a distance for the sound of their town blowing up. I'm always struck how the Tavianis film the character's fleeing the Nazi's order to remain in the church. As a group, all dressed in black to evade detection at night, they often become like one entity.
I suppose what many people initially find disorientating is that this is an ensemble piece with about a dozen characters of roughly equal importance and the film does a ruthless job in killing off several likeable characters which would make it to the end in another film. But hey, that's war for you ! There are similarities to the magic realism of Pan's Labyrinth in how the film looks at war through the eyes of a little girl, who creates her own fantasy world to deal with what she witnesses (here the film veers of into fantasy sequences of Greek mythology instead of fairy tales). San Lorenzo is less fussy in fleshing out its fantasy world (no doubt due to a far smaller budget) and more importantly, far less sentimental and morally black and white than the over-praised Del Toro film.
We may find the father and son Nazis loathsome but the father's intense animal grief when the boy gets shot dead should arrest any triumphant fist pump in mid-air.
One key sequence in The Night of the Shooting Stars which I find among the most wrenching of any war film
(the bombing of the church and the death of the young, pregnant wife)
and yet there is a lot of dark humour in the way it regards to the frequently absurd situations war puts the characters in. For our POV character, this is all a great adventure and for other characters the war becomes a liberation from social norms, be that for good or bad. Yet the film never makes light of the suddenness of death and even in its flights of fancy, it can be tremendously moving
(the death dream of the Sicilian girl!)
Considering its relatively short running time, the film does a great job in sketching in its large cast of characters, which becomes even more clear on revisiting the film. This group of people has become like a bunch of old friends, who I like to revisit every few years. There are several stand out sequences, not least a battle scene in a wheat field, which must have had some influence on Terrence Malick's similar battle scene in long grass in The Thin Red Line. In the Taviani film neighbours and former friends are pitted against each other, struggling with ambivalent emotions as they are forced to kill each other.
A wonderful film and I'm so happy to finally have it on Blu after having to make do with a DVD for many years which wasn't even anamorphic. It would be nice if Arrow restores the film to its European distribution title, the direct translation of The Night of San Lorenzo.
I had a brief look at the other two films in the set. Kaos, which I've never seen and am much looking forward to once I find the time, looks very good. Padre Padrone looks not so great, even for 16mm, but apparently that's the best it will ever look. I've only seen it once when it came out, so don't remember how accurate it is.