The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (Italy, 1981):
(La Tragedia di un Uomo Ridicolo)

A high-angle shot of Ugo Tognazzi near the beginning, groaning in his sleep with fedora pulled over his eyes, sums up his "ridiculousness" -- a former peasant and fighter comfortably grown into bourgeois middle-age, not too rich but enough to forget the past, and probably the present. "Ridiculous, but with style," he thinks, trying on a yachting cap, his birthday present, just in time to try the binoculars from the top of his Parma cheese factory and spot his son being shoved into a car by a hooded gang. Or was he? Bernardo Bertolucci in a pensive, restrained mood following the wackiness of Luna, with results no less oedipal: the camera tilts then untilts within the same shot, though the focus here is on the torturous passage of time, the scrambling for a billion-lire ransom, and the yawning gulf that seems to materialize between generations. Wife Anouk Aimťe takes distraught inventory of their belongings, interrupted by Tognazzi: "Why did you marry me?" Secrets come to the fore, but how do the sonís proletarian friends (Laura Morante, Victor Cavallo) fit into the affair? Slippery slaughterhouse montage braids the three in the nationís moral-political quandaries, where the sonís supposed death becomes the fatherís ticket back toward economic safety, disguised (in his mind, at least) as a return to early activist roots. A gag, really, for this is Bertolucciís subtle satire, Tognazzi chased over town by loudspeakers and helicopters, a roomful of moneyed fogies straight out of Eisenstein, Vittorio Caprioliís pratfalls over petit-bourgeois furniture. Grim farce ultimately gives way to disillusioned impotence, a difference not just between The Spiderís Stratagem and this film but between 1970 and 1981, revolution congealed into patriarchal guilt and radicalism stalled, like the fluidity of milk into cheese, as societal alternatives become ghosts of the past. Reunion is fragile -- the "enigma of the son who dies and is reborn," scored uneasily to punk rock and indigenous Italian band tunes, yet Tognazzi is the same still, "ridiculous," locked in the obscuring iris of political ordinariness. Cinematography by Carlo Di Palma. Music by Ennio Morricone.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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