Synopsis: Acclaimed Italian auteur Ettore Scola pairs up with legendary actor Nino Manfredi in this irreverent Cannes-winning comedy. Giacinto (Manfredi), along with four generations of his sprawling, crooked clan, lives in a cramped, dilapidated home on the outskirts of Rome. When a work accident leaves him blind in one eye, the derelict Giacinto suddenly finds himself rolling in insurance money. Refusing to share the wealth, Giacinto’s relatives concoct several harebrained plots in hopes of wrenching the riches away.
eyelights: its deep, dark humour. its cast of gritty characters.
eyesores: its aimlessness. its twisted perspective on the dregs of humanity.
“Relatives are like boots: the tighter they are, the more it hurts.”
‘Brutti, sporchi e cattivi’ is one of those movies that only found itself on my radar because it’s one of my friend’s favourite films. It’s something that she and her mom apparently watch regularly, a sort of family classic.
But, make no mistake: this is not a family picture.
Though it revolves around an extended Italian family, ‘Brutti, sporchi e cattivi’ delves in grotesque humour, making light of situations, actions and beliefs that would typically be considered affronts to human dignity.
The 1976 picture is set in a small shanty village on the outskirts of Rome. It revolves around Giacinto, the patriarch of a dirt-poor multi-generational unit of a couple dozen who all cohabit under the same roof.
Giacinto is a paranoid man: having recently received 1 million lira in insurance payout for the loss of one of his eyes, he believes that his family is out to steal his money – thus he finds extreme ways to stash his cash.
The picture is nearly plotless. It merely follows the antics of the various characters as they lie, cheat, steal, swindle, pawn and prostitute to survive, anchored though they all are by their gruff family patriarch.
In fact, only the third act provides some plot, with Giacinto falling in love and sheltering a woman a third his age, becoming the target of reprisals from his spouse, who conspires with the rest of the family to murder him.
‘Brutti, sporchi e cattivi’ is a pretty crude film and it would surely be offensive to a lot of people, given the utter amorality of the family: they’re not beyond physically, emotionally and sexually abusing each other.
Of course, some people would find this outrageously funny, and the picture is admittedly laced with a jet black humour that hits its mark (ex: Giacinto and his spouse getting into a knife fight, egged on by his own mom).
That being said, it fails in its few attempts at striking a truly lighter tone because it’s far too grim for laughs. When Giacinto does double and triple takes for comic effect, it just doesn’t jive with the rest of the picture.
However, there are interesting aspects to ‘Brutti, sporchi e cattivi’. In fact, for a picture that’s nearly plotless, I was surprised by how quickly the first half hour flew by; there’s always another grotesquery to distract us.
Still, for me, the enjoyment lay wholly in the details:
- The sight of two dozen, living in a one-room, cluttered, decrepit house in a shantytown on top of a hill. And, in the background, a sprawling cityscape, filled with modern highrises. Wow. What a contrast.
- Giacinto’s million lira amounted to approximately 1200USD in 1976. That’s not a lot of money to conspire over, but it’s indicative of the unforgiving poverty that these people endure.
- Giacinto is played by Nino Manfredi, who gives him a shleppy Alan Arkin/Peter Falk-ish quality. It’s not a style I adore, but it’s certainly distinctive.
- Giacinto always finds unique ways to hide his money somewhere in the cramped shack – but, somehow, no one ever sees him do it.
- The men are all feral brutes, aside for Nando, who is a drag prostitute (but who is not gay, no matter what his father thinks).
- There are two brands of women: older and worn, or younger and tawdry. The older women frequently bear moustaches.
- Grandma Antonecchia is played by Giovanni Rovini – a man! Imagine if a stringy old Italian decided to play a senile Norma Bates and you get the picture.
- The children are locked in a pen during the day – a large cage not akin to modern day prisons or a Thunderdome. It’s a wonder that the children don’t hurt each other more, being unattended.
- The men can sleep with whoever they want, young or old, related or not – and will cajole, corrupt and blackmail anyone to get what they want. But their partners have to remain chaste.
All this considered, it’s hardly surprising then, to see the cycle continuing endlessly at the end.
Ettore Scola won the Best Director award at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, and it’s no wonder: not only did he manage to coordinate a cast of dozens, but he was able to capture the squalor and struggles with precision.
The whole picture has a dreary, undersaturated, but life-like quality to it. Unlike Dick Mass’ popular ‘Flodder’ movies, which are hyperbolic for comedy’s sake, ‘Brutti, sporchi e cattivi’ truly seeks its humour in realism.
It’s a deeply ironic, satirical, yet uniquely sad picture because it puts a spotlight on the roadkill of humanity and pokes it with a stick. It’s nasty, it’s ugly, it’s sometimes quite revolting, but it can also be fascinating.
And, in the right frame of mind, it can produce a few chuckles along the way.
So long as the rot doesn’t set in.
Date of viewing: November 17, 2016