La pacifista: Smetti di piovere | The Pacifist (Stop the Rain)
DIRECTOR: Miklós Jancsó | WRITERS: Giovanna Galiardo, Gyula Hernádi, Miklós Jancsó, Guido Leoni | CAST: Monica Vitti, Pierre Clémenti, Peter Pasetti, József Madaras, Daniel Olbrychski, Piero Faggioni, Gino Lavagetto | Italy
I didn’t know anything about La pacifista before watching it aside from the fact that Miklós Jancsó made it in Italy in 1970 with Monica Vitti in the lead, but given that Jancsó’s 91st birthday was a couple of days ago and what would have been Antonioni’s 100th was today it seemed like a nice way to honor the two. Oy! What a colossal disaster this flick is! The plot is simple enough: Barbara (Monica Vitti) is a Milanese television reporter of bourgeois sympathies — but she’s hip and her best friend is a gay guy — who’s been covering smelly leftist-anarchist protesters she thinks are all talk and no action. She’s waylaid by another group of young people of decidedly violent far right-anarchist views, one of whose members, Michele (Pierre Clémenti), has been stalking her. They meet cute (she refuses to positively ID him as her stalker so the police let him go) and boom! just like that and they’re deep in L-O-V-E. Meanwhile he’s been assigned the task of assassinating a leftist politician but can’t bring himself to do it because of his religious upbringing and, of course, his L-O-V-E for Barbara. His gang carries out the assassination and come gunning for him.
That could make for a decent enough movie, I think, but something went wrong here. No, not something: everything. For starters, every single actor is dubbed in Italian by voice actors, including Monica Vitti whose lips may be forming Italian words but whose voice is not on the audio track. As if that weren’t disconcerting enough, there’s no attempt at lip syncing whatsoever and the only reason we know that the visual and audio tracks are not out of sync is that on individual words or short phrases the lips occasionally do appear to be forming the sounds we hear. But sentences, paragraphs of talking will go by while the people on screen don’t appear to be talking or don’t appear to be saying anything remotely similar to what we’re hearing. And because there are no visual or auditory clues to identify what the source for what we’re hearing is — is this one of the characters I’m looking at talking? thinking? is this a voiceover? if so, who’s talking? — it can be confusing. We also hear remembered conversations involving characters who aren’t in the movie at all and other conversations between characters we’ve never seen talking so it’s only by their names that we can figure out what’s going on. To top it all off, Barbara’s interior monologues — and there are quite a few of them — usually take place as dialogues with herself or with her “mother”, voiced by two different actresses. So with “Monica Vitti”‘s voice alone she could be: 1) talking to herself, 2) thinking to herself, or 3) talking to someone in the scene with her. The fourth possibility, that of having an internal argument, is clear because then there are two women’s voices, one of which is scolding and the other flippant, and Vitti is essentially the only woman who talks in the movie.
The La pacifista shoot was apparently an extremely unhappy one. From what Google Translate helps me glean from the Hungarian Wikipedia article about the movie, Jancsó was in Italy because he was forbidden to make movies in Hungary and La pacifista was his tribute to Antonioni. Monica Vitti was apparently a great admirer of Jancsó’s films and eager to be part of the movie. Their accounts differ but both appear to have kernels of the truth: the screenplay was written as they went along and Jancsó didn’t know what he wanted; Vitti felt cast adrift and was consequently difficult to deal with. Jancsó does appear to have asked for the acting to be stylized at times — people are knocked unconscious by mimed “karate chops” to the back of the head or neck; characters who are shot to death slowly lie down on the ground and don’t bleed, and so on — but it’s inconsistent and those parts of the movie feel unintegrated. In fact, some of the movie appears to be played as comedy, but it’s so incongruous that it’s not at all clear what Jancsó was after. The acting is similarly unfocused. Monica Vitti seems game at times but there’s no real flow to her performance. (She also looks disconcertingly like Barbra Streisand; she could easily pass for Streisand’s pretty cousin.) Pierre Clémenti flops around alarmingly sans underwear and gives the impression of being strung out. Jancsó regular József Madaras, the apparent leader of the right-wing terrorists, comes across as the evil fag twin of Andreas Voutsinas’s Karmen Ghia in Mel Brooks’ The Producers. (In fact, most of the right-wing crowd came across to me as menacing homos. What is that about?) All in all this is an exasperating movie from a director whose work just prior to this is extraordinarily great.