"The Madness of Marco Ferreri"
Beginning this Friday Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive offers a two-weekend series of films by the Milanese-born satirist Marco Ferreri. Like many another Italian, Ferreri builds his films around strong graphic images -- in Don't Touch the White Woman! (1974) Gen. Custer fighting Indians in contemporary Paris, in Bye Bye Monkey (1978) King Kong lying dead in New York City. Ferreri builds his scenarios (often co-authored by Rafael Azcona) around equally high-concept ideas: "Four men decide to eat themselves to death" is the one-liner describing his best known film, La Grande Bouffe (1973), although such summaries of necessity omit the wealth of sensory and behavioral detail Ferreri brings to the table.
As much a caricaturist as Fellini, Ferreri's work in review falls at midpoint on an axis between sublimely surreal late Bunuel and Lina Wertmuller at her most grotesque. Like the latter's Seven Beauties a vulgar comedy about genocide, Don't Touch the White Woman!, which receives its West Coast premiere at the PFA, is a good measure of the filmmaker's strengths and weaknesses. With tremendous verve Ferreri quick-sketches a cartoon anti-western in the bulldozed ruins of Les Halles, a working-class haven freshly demolished by the Pompidou regime. Custer (Marcello Mastroianni) preens as Indian corpses are stuffed with newspapers for public display. Ideologically, Ferreri preaches to the converted in a film even more heavy-handed than such contemporary American anti-westerns as Little Big Man and Buffalo Bill and the Indians. As a filmmaker, however, Ferreri is able to bring the agitprop alive, holding on a shot of a collapsed chimney after a massacre and making his bizarre conceit actually work symbolically. Equally blunt, several of Ferreri's other films openly confront both the feminism and the sexual openness of the 1970s with a directness lacking in today's politer motion pictures. Bye Bye Monkey opens with the members of a feminist acting troupe deciding to rape Gerard Depardieu so as to observe his reactions, while Depardieu in the tragic The Last Woman is meant to be the last male chauvinist (we know, of course, that he wasn't). The former is flawed by being essentially a shaggy-ape story while the latter is, for this viewer anyway, spoiled by Ferreri's weakness for shock imagery. Depardieu, however, has never been better than in these two films; the late great Mastroianni is in three of them, and the acting generally is first-rate (when not pushed to extremes).
Also in the series is a collaboration with comedian Roberto Begnini (1979's My Asylum) and a fresh take on the works of Charles Bukowski (1981's Tales of Ordinary Madness). Here is the complete PFA schedule of Ferreri films:
Friday, Jan. 3: La Grande Bouffe (7 p.m.) and Don't Touch the White Woman! (9:20 p.m.).
Saturday, Jan. 4: La Grande Bouffe (7 p.m.) and The Last Woman (9:20 p.m.).
Sunday, Jan. 5: Bye Bye Monkey (5:30 p.m.) and My Asylum (7:40 p.m.).
Thursday, Jan. 9: My Asylum (7 p.m.) and The Wheelchair (Spain, 1959) (9 p.m.).
Friday, Jan. 10: Bye Bye Monkey (7 p.m.) and Mafioso (directed by Alberto Lattuada in 1962 from a script co-authored by Ferreri) (9:10 p.m.).
Saturday, Jan. 11: Tales of Ordinary Madness (7 p.m.) and La Grande Bouffe (9:05 p.m.).
Sunday, Jan. 12: Don't Touch the White Woman! (5:45 p.m.) and Tales of Ordinary Madness (7:50 p.m.).