July 10, 2009

ZOMBIE ITALIANO: Cemetery Man (Review)

Day Five

Cemetery Man (1994)
(aka. Dellamorte Dellamore)

Director: Michele Soavi

4 / 5 zedheads

As of July 8th, principle photography has completed on the upcoming film Dead of Night in which Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) stars as Dylan Dog, a reluctant paranormal investigator. Dylan Dog is the creation of Italian comics creator Tiziano Sclavi, but Dead of Night is not the first time one of Sclavi's characters has been adapted to film. In 1994, director Michele Soavi released Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man in North America). The film features a different Sclavi character: Francesco Dellamorte as played by Rupert Everett.

Dellamorte Dellamore is an impossible movie to summarize. A plot synopsis cannot possible touch the heart of the film, which no matter how many times I watch always impresses and alludes me. Instead, I find myself relying more on adjectives than sentences to describe this movie. Surreal. Surprising. Sexy. Satirical. Figurative, phantasmal, and yes, perhaps even flawed. Ultimately wonderful and engrossing. You cannot approach the movie from a literal point of view. Things happen that are bizarre but make sense in the logic of the film, but then the film skews that fictional logic and goes off on increasingly surreal dream-like tangents. You have to think of it as a floating, shifting metaphor first and foremost rather than a story.

Franceso Dellamorte is the caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery where the dead are returning to life as zombies. And what zombies they are! This film features some of the most unique zombies I've ever seen; even those that border on the deliciously absurd are ingenious. One unique feature of several of these zombies is that their bodies are entwined and punctured by the roots of trees and plants that have grown through them in their graves -- life living within death (how appropriate for zombies!).

Dellamorte takes it as part of his job to put down these zombies with headshots before they can escape the cemetery. Along with the aid of his mute and mentally undeveloped helper Gnaghi (Fran├žois Hadji-Lazaro), Dellamorte rarely leaves the cemetery. He is a languishing recluse with no connection to or human feeling for the living. Although Gnaghi is his friend, he treats him more like a dog and beast of burden, but with the kind of selfish protective love you'd show a dog or ox. Dellamorte spends his days digging graves, burying bodies, maintaining the cemetery, and when he's off the clock he reconstructs skulls and reads the phone book to cross out the names of the deceased. He is a man without life or passion. He even spreads rumours in the town about being impotent just to further distance himself from people. As he tells his friend, "The more they laugh, the further away they seem. You can never be too different, Gnaghi."

Things change when he meets "She" (the arresting and sensuous Anna Falchi). "She" is not so much a character but an idea, an obsession, an icon for a particular male vision of femininity. First, she is a widow with whom Dellamorte falls in love, awakening some passion in him. Not compassion but lust. Soon after, she dies but returns (sometimes as the same character now undead, and sometimes as a different character altogether) to haunt and arouse / torment Dellamorte. Or does she even exist? Is she simply a metaphor for how Dellamorte is torturing himself by seeing his dead lover everywhere? It is this kind of ambiguity that makes the movie so hard to pin down.

The way Falchi is filmed and dressed (or as is more often the case -- undressed) in this film is breathtaking. There are points in some people's lives where they can look back and locate the moments that were sexually formative. Well, Dellamorte Dellamore was that kind of movie for me, and much of that is owed to Falchi and the film's cinematography. She's erotic and sad and mysterious and dangerous all at once. There are some scenes where her nude body is lightly draped in only a thin, essentially see-through fabric that accentuates every one of her curves and slides over her in the breeze. This beauty is not only attributed to the female form but also the film's scenery. The graveyard is beautifully designed in a way you would almost see out of a European comic book -- powerful angles and provocative shapes.

Yet, while the movie is sexy and beautiful, it is also goofy and ugly and violent. There are real moments of ludicrous humour (such as the reanimation of a bus of dead boy scouts) and bodily gags (i.e. vomit). As things spiral out of control for Dellamorte, there are real moments of flippant violence that occur. Dellamorte begins to go mad and starts to kill the living, almost indiscriminately, but the kills never have any legal repercussions. For a film about blurring of love and death, however, what better tones to strike than beautiful and ugly, somber, absurd, and irrational.

Will you like this film? I can't tell you that. However, I highly recommend that you see it. It is an intriguing mixture of the highbrow and the lowbrow, which is beautifully filmed and designed. As long as you are willing to let go of your rational mind and let the movie take you to strange places, you will enjoy it. The ending in particular is very abstract.

Even if you're not into those kinds of movies, if you are a zombie fan you still deserve to see this film for the unique portrayal of the undead alone, but the film is about more than zombies.

Everyone who sees Dellamorte Dellamore comes away with a different interpretation of its metaphor. I tend to see the film as an illustration of the failure to truly understand death by failing to understand love and passion and how the two intersect. We are all zombies in a sense when we cannot reconcile our obsession with life with our fear of death or reconcile our obsession with death and our fear of life. Dellamorte observes that "the Living Dead and the dying living are all the same," but he does not understand the true significance of that truth. He takes it as license to recuse himself from humanity and to kill others in an attempt to escape life and, paradoxically, try to control death, but there is no more a way to escape life and love than there is to escape death.

The movie reminds me of the French term used to describe the spiritual release of the orgasm -- La petite mort or little death. As others have noted, the film's title is a thematic word play. In Italian, della morte means "of death." Dellamore, which we learn was Franceso's mother's name, means "of love".

Love is a lot like dying and dying is a lot like being in love.

Death, death, death comes sweeping down, filthy death the leering clown, death on wings, death by surprise, failing evil from worldly eyes, death that spawns as life succumbs, while death and love, two kindred drums, beat the time till judgment day, an actor in a passion play, without beginning, without end, evermore

I hope you've enjoyed this week of Italian Zombie movie reviews! They weren't all fun to watch, but they were all certainly fun to write about. Until next time, "arrivederci!"