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  Grim Reaper, The Dissection Of A Murder
Year: 1962
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Stars: Francesco Ruiu, Giancarlo De Rosa, Vincenzo Ciccora, Alfredo Leggi, Gabriella Giorgelli, Santina Lisio, Carlotta Barilli, Ada Peragostini, Clorinda Celani, Allen Midgette, Renato Troiani, Wanda Rocci, Marisa Solinas, Alvaro D'Ercole, Romano Labate
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The wind picks up a flurry of newspaper scraps and carries them off this bridge over the River Tiber to the grassy undergrowth below. But they also land on a dead body lying on the ground, a murdered prostitute who was left there last night, and now the police are investigating, calling in possible witnesses and possible culprits for questioning. The first man they ask in the interrogation room is Canti (Francesco Ruiu), a layabout who tells them he had spent the previous day looking for work, but he was actually looking for opportunities to steal - was he capable of murder too?

If director Bernardo Bertolucci's debut resembled a Pier Paolo Pasolini movie, there was a good reason for that, as he had formerly operated as the respected filmmaker's assistant, and Pasolini had been generous enough to come up with the story for his friend's first foray into making his own works. It's obvious Bertolucci was influenced by the Italian neo-realists as that's pretty much the category The Grim Reaper fell into, but it was also plain that he had not quite found his own style, his own voice if you will, that made his following projects so distinctively his. For his initial try it there was nevertheless indication of the man's talent.

It's just that the plot, or plots to be more accurate, were less interesting, being structured as what some see as a variation on Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, but actually less a telling of the same tale from differing voices and more a telling of a selection of linked tales that if we hadn't seen the prostitute's corpse at the beginning we might be wondering what on earth they all had to do with each other. In fact, Bertolucci seemed less interested in tracking down killers - this was not really a whodunnit - and more keen on presenting a slice of Roman life, a slice of lowlife quite often, in the way he felt came across as authentic, so the audience would say, yes, I know these people, this is exactly what it's like to live in the city.

But if that were true, he painted a dim picture of the inhabitants, especially the men, who almost all are womanisers or criminals or at the very least heartless opportunists. As we move from a pimp trying to get his money from his whores to a soldier aimlessly wandering and attempting to pick up the women he harrasses you might begin to wonder what it was Bertolucci saw in this group of characters as most of them you would cross the street to avoid. Not to mention the jokes that they tell are some of the worst on record, no matter that they manage to get others laughing at them, but there is an encouraging measure of suspense as the plots grow closer to the end and we see what happened to the victim, and by doing so, who the killer was. Bertolucci by that point is on the side of the underdogs, meaning those who have needlessly died, so a sense of social injustice fuels what could otherwise have been pretty deriviative, but it's a hard film to appreciate as entertainment. Music by Piero Piccioni and Carlo Rusticelli.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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