St. Michael Had a Rooster (Italy, 1972):
(San Michele Aveva un Gallo)

As a child, the rebel learns about punishment by spending the entire night inside a locked closet; he presses his noggin against the wall and recites the titular rhyming incantation, which is picked up by the chorus for the opening credits. Having grown into Giulio Brogi, he renounces his aristocracy to side with a raggedy revolutionary brigade, and a signal is sounded for a deadpan burlesque of radical fervor -- "we want to give you back your own grain," the men tell the uncooperative townsfolk, revolt fizzles as their rifles go off, everything is captured mostly in long shot for astringent absurdism. Things went "so-so," Brogi assures the aborted insurgents as they sit next to a flour-caked corpse; the camera pans over to the empty street while they await capture and soon the leader is being carted off to be shot, outlining his will and suggesting a score for his funeral. Having transplanted Tolstoy's story to 1875 Southern Italy, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have other plans for the character, so they take Brogi from the firing squad and plunk him in a solitary cell for a decade to analyze him growing irrelevant. Severed from the rest of the world, he keeps his mind fit by voicing his thoughts aloud, envisioning fancy meals from prison slop, holding imaginary meetings with his comrades by playing all the roles himself; the childhood rhyme comes back, a wall of grimy bricks turns into a screen on which memories and fantasies are projected. The circular pan in the cell as Brogi rallies an orchestra within his head is central to the film, and to the Tavianis' style -- operatic bareness. The extensive tracking shot across the swamps as Brogi boards the ship is far from triumphant, for his view of revolution is suddenly made impractically gray by the younger subversives chained next to him, who have since ditched romantic fire for scientific pragmatism. To the political dreamer robbed of his Utopia, the open spaces become as oppressive as his cell; the waters provide the exit, and the Tavianis record it with excoriating irony. With Renato Scarpa, Daniele Dublino, and Cinzia Bruno.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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