Sergio Sollima’s excellent (and virtually forgotten) spaghetti western, Faccia a faccia (Face to Face), made in 1967, features an inventive pop art credit sequence which recalls Andy Warhol’s iconic silk screen prints. The stylish montage and Ennio Morricone’s blaring score helps create a brilliant cinematic frisson. This film is just waiting to be re-discovered from the movie crypt of obscurity and celebrated as a great piece of cult cinema. The brilliant Eureka label release it on DVD for the first time ever in the UK.
Sergio Leone’s successful Dollars trilogy heralded a fresh perspective on a dying but quintessential American genre and other directors quickly followed suit. Genres, whether exploitation flicks or not, tend to thrive after a particular title goes down well at the box office. The mean-eyed stare of the Euro Western ended up influencing the very genre it was aping.
‘Violence is an Italian art,’ said Lucio Fulci, and the country’s take on the cowboy flick delivered such a notion in spades. Faccia a faccia stands out from the crowd by front-loading a political metaphor. It is easy to read Marxist subtexts in spaghetti westerns with their emphasis on avarice and commodity fetishism. Men kill for ‘a fistful of dollars’ and a dog-eat-dog world walks hand in hand with death. The high-pitch sound of a revolver firing is like a cash register. As the bodies drop the take goes up. Money drives men to murder as if led by the spiritual verve of possessing riches. Faccia a faccia attempts to do things a bit differently.
The story takes place in the arid climes of Texas and focuses on themes of identity and corruption of the soul, not by money, but power. The film has been noted as an allegory of fascism, and it's clear to see why.
Brad Fletcher (Gian Maria Volonté) is a professor with an unspecified illness. Given he’s seeking warmer climes out west and insinuates he’s dying we can safely assume the man suffers from tuberculosis. Solomon ‘Beauregard’ Bennet (Tomas Milian) is the eccentric-looking leader of the Wild Gang. If you thought Javier Bardem’s mop top hairdo in No Country for Old Men (2007) was wacky – wait until you see Milian’s haircut in this! Bennet has finally been captured by the sheriff’s posse but makes his move for freedom when Brad offers him water to drink. Demonstrating civility turns into high drama when Bennet shoots down the sheriff and his men then holds Brad hostage.
The professor and the bandit, however, become friends allowing Brad’s moral decline to begin as his rise to inner strength occurs. What follows is a genuinely brilliant tale of outlaws, bank jobs, duplicity and murder.
Its Texas setting is pure fantasy, too, as the largest US state is as flat as a pancake. Sollima, like others, shot the picture around
The major set-piece is a bank heist. Sollima overlaps Brad explaining what is to be done with a flash forward device. The winning effect sees the action taking place as Brad explains the plan to the Wild Gang. The desert finale, too, makes for a thrilling and heavily symbolic finish with Brad and Solomon facing off against a gang of vigilante’s led by a former friend. The film works so well largely due to its clever role reversals much like John Woo achieved in Face/Off (1997).
Solomon is an instinctual, unthinking killer but his moral compass (if we can call it such) is in better shape than Brad’s. The character arc of this intellectual, wonderfully played with growing malevolence and arrogance by the iconic Volonté, is the movie’s true core.
He embraces the outlaw life with vigour and applies logic and calculated menace to contrast with Bennet’s approach. Brad injects fascist steel into his philosophy as he becomes de facto head of the gang. The small outpost, Pietra di Fuoco, becomes a personal fiefdom and the inhabitants his subjects. It really is an unusual kind of narrative for a western to explore.
The DVD presents Faccia a faccia in its original aspect ratio and new audio mix. Although it hasn’t been given a Blu-ray release it’s still a must-have for Italian cinema fans. Included in the bonus features is an insightful sixteen minute interview with the director which goes into the movie’s origins and how they relate to his experiences during the Second World War. He notes how plenty of people he knew underwent personality changes much like his lead character Brad Fletcher.
There are a couple of trailers and the option to watch in the original dubbed Italian or with English subtitles. A sixteen page booklet by spaghetti western expert Howard Hughes rounds off a fine release. Faccia a faccia is a fantastic movie.