Of death…of life…of many other things?

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A personal look into Dellamorte Dellamore (1994).

In 2017 a list went viral online detailing landmarks in European Queer Cinema and I was a little surprised to see Michele Soavi’s DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (aka CEMETERY MAN) listed. As aside from the sexuality of leading man Rupert Everett, which has absolutely no relation to the film or his casting, I could not see exactly how the list maker came to their conclusion.

Now, being a self-entitled millennial I obviously took to social media to debate it and to hopefully gain alternative viewpoints and interpretations of the film. Thankfully having a diverse and articulate network group I discovered several reasons behind why some agree with it falling into this queer category, such as it “daring to be non-normative” while possessing a “very queer sensibility” (@schmollywood666, 2017).

These types of discussions I believe are vital to film fans in helping us to see what others see. It allows us to challenge our own thoughts and serves to open our minds to other points of view, regardless of whether we agree or not. Ultimately this is a skill that we can and should take into our real lives.

Regardless of the movie (although the vapid dross Michael Bay creates is excluded), we can each form our own unique interpretation of what we have seen, filtered through our own experiences and thoughts to find meaning, and it is because of this I love the medium. So here, I am going to detail exactly what DELLAMORTE DELLA MORE means to me. 

It is one of those films that is clearly open to interpretation thanks to a layered approach touching on several subjects and allowing viewers to choose whether they just want to dip in and out of a titillating (no Anna Falchi jokes please) and bonkers Italian zombie flick or if they want to contemplate the existence of their own personal world and its confines. Depending on how many beers I have had I can do either. Full disclosure however, I have never read the Dylan Dog graphic novels and so that avenue at least cannot be explored by me,

Now if you are unfamiliar with this unconventional 1994 movie, then the premise itself when simplified may not sound all that much but when you begin to expand the narrative then things suddenly become a lot more abstract, philosophical and let’s be honest at times, humorous.

Fundamentally the film follows Engineer Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) and his simple assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) who work as the guardians of the Buffalora cemetery. A cemetery where for some reason approximately seven days after being buried the dead come back to life and must be put back to rest once more.

With only the child-like Gnaghi for companionship, and fed up with his lot in life – unappreciated by all of the townsfolk who are unaware of his real work and instead make snide sexual comments about him – Francesco decides that there must be something more for him out there, be it love or adventure. Anything to break the monotony and sheer futile nature of his life. After all if the dead return to life and we are all destined to die, why wait for it to happen. At this point of the movie, he feels impotent to make a change, needing a catalyst he eventually is sparked into action by the power of love. However much like his mental state, events soon unravel pushing him to his limit. And on further reflection we start to consider is his impotence related to his fear of losing his job, his identity or even his masculinity?

If you haven’t realised by now this piece is certainly not a review of the film, or at least not in the traditional format, and therefore I have no need to reiterate the praise for Mauro Marchetti’s fantastic cinematography, the memorable music by Riccardo Biseo and Manuel De Sica or even the excellent work by all of the crew regarding set and costume design. Perhaps there is room for me to reminisce about that Anna Falchi scene however, but I digress.

Right, back on track and what we do need to talk about is the terrific script by Gianni Romoli (TRAUMA), who was working from source material in terms of initial characters and set up by Tiziano Sclavi and his Dylan Dog comics – the character Dylan Dog was of course originally modelled on Rupert Everett and therefore only he could have played Francesco. Despite this, some American producers attempted to line up Matt Dillon for the role. To be fair I can see this logic from a visual perspective but this role really was handcrafted for Rupert Everett and him alone.

In his script, Gianni Romoli grants Francesco a wry, sardonic sense of humour (of which Rupert Everett skilfully delivers) while simultaneously managing to lead us through the highs and lows of our leads mental state. To do this the writer took an interesting approach ulitising a device that one does not see all that often, if ever, in Italian genre cinema – a monologue voiceover. The effect being something that comes across as a very internal, personal film – a journey. Due to this approach as the viewer we can empathise and place the actions that we witness into a much wider emotional context.

Sure, sometimes the visual representation of these ‘states’ is a little heavy handed but at other times they are open to interpretation and if I may borrow from the art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, who when describing the works of the Baroque artist Caravaggio stated that (of the artist) “He habitually collapses the immensity of the world into the confines of a room…” I feel that this also speaks of Francesco’s world and to those of us who grew up in more remote locations, where the world is limited in physical reach and scope. One may also interpret this as an internalisation due to the use of the internal dialogue.

“The rest of the world…who knows if the rest of the world even exists.”

With this point it is also important to remember that the film was made in 1994, a time when the world was not as interconnected as today, a time when you could not simply go online to communicate or learn or discover the world. It was a time when the world for most of us was only as big as our social network (and possible few foreign holidays) would allow it to be. Where events occurring even in our own continent must seem unconnected, at least directly, to our way of life. It is in this situation that, like Francesco, we are most likely to ask – does the rest of the world really exist? 

This feeling plays off the concept of object permanence and fascinates me in regards to how we see, interact and understand both our world and that of the wider one. These points incorporate our social interactions and by the final act of DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE we begin to question the very nature of the film due to the almost absurd actions of several characters, giving rise to the argument that perhaps all of this is played out in Francesco’s head. How much of this is his interpreted reality? 

We ask are the Police Marshall and Francesco’s friend Franco merely manifestations of his own mind? Perhaps in some sort of Freudian way they are elements of his conflicting psyche (the id, the ego and the super-ego) as they try to justify his ever erratic actions which culminate in his realisation and liberation.

This ending is what leads me to believe that the film is talking about how we perceive the world based on our own experiences. 

Of course there are other subjects tackled in the film; one example is the self-centred Mayor exploiting his daughter in order to win an election is extremely cynical, perhaps here the film is displaying a distrust for politicians and disillusionment of the system. This would hardly be surprising considering the Italian political system. I will leave you to discover the rest for yourself.

Ultimately for me DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE is not a horror as such but a darkly comic, bizarre, profound and stylistically violent drama. Possessing a sly, dark wit with several humorous throwaway lines peppered throughout in order to keep the film fresh and preserve a balance to the more serious topics that are touched upon.

For me this is a film about existentialism, for others it is about non-conformity (and the personal damage of appeasement) but what about for you? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter over @cinemaeuropa.

If you have not watched the film I implore you to track down a copy, remove any distractions and give it a watch. Perhaps the last great Italian genre film.

If you are in the UK the film is available from Shameless Films.

I’ll leave you with one line from Francesco You can never be too different”. So perhaps daring to be non-normative is not far off the mark at all. 

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