Saturday, 9 June 2007

Keoma

Keoma, 1976. Directed by Enzo G. Castellari. With Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Woody Strode, Joshua Sinclair, Donald O'Brien, Orso Maria Guerrini, Antonio Marsina.

After fighting in the civil war, Keoma (Franco Nero), a half Indian who was raised by his white father, returns home. But what he finds is an apocalyptic nightmare. A man called Caldwell and his brutal, racist gang terrorize the town, which has been ravaged by an outbreak of the plaque. They round up everybody who is sick, or they suspect is sick, and force them into an abandoned mine pit to either recover or die.

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Death herself questions Keoma: "Why did you come back?"

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Keoma, a quiet man haunted by the past and not sure what to do with his life, decides to stay in town. He defies Caldwell's men by protecting a pregnant woman, who was unjustly forced to go to the mine pit. He also sees George, who used to be a friend to him when he was a child, but is now the town drunk. After Keoma visits his father, and learns that his three half brothers joined Caldwell, he is determined to fight Caldwell and his gang.

Keoma, George and the local doctor manage to smuggle medicine into town, which is immediately confiscated by Caldwell’s men. After Keoma shoots them down Caldwell decides to get rid of Keoma once and for all. Meanwhile Keoma’s power-hungry brothers plan to get rid of both Caldwell and Keoma, but when their father takes Keoma’s site in his fight with Caldwell things turn out different....

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"Everything on this land belongs to Mr. Caldwell."

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"But it's medicine...!" Far left, Woody Strode as George.

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Thinking about the past... and the future.

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Keoma's half brother. Orso Maria Guerrini with his piercing eyes.

As in most spaghetti westerns Keoma’s story is more of a background, against which bloody, violent setpieces, cliché’s and revenge motifs can take centerstage. But director Enzo Castellari adds a bleak, poetic sadness to both substance and style, resulting in something quite different and unique.

There are many instances in which flashbacks (and some flash-forward) overlap the present, and explain and add to the emotional power of a scene. They emphasize the contrast between past and present, and it’s influence on Keoma. He doesn’t know what to do with his life, except that the increasing brutality and death that surrounds him must come to an end.

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The three brothers discuss their plans...

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When Keoma faces Caldwell and his gang...

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...Death is nearby.

There are two women in the movie who are symbols for this struggle: the pregnant woman Keoma cares for, who represents life, and an old woman, who in fact is death herself and seen only by Keoma. She questions his actions, claiming there is no use.

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Caldwell kills the father...

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...and Keoma... well, he's just being Keoma...

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Even the violent shootouts have a different feel to them, thanks in large part to the heavy use of slowmotion, a device that Castellari often uses, and that creates some beautiful imagery. Is the shootout with Caldwell’s gang is a more traditional highlight; the final shootout is the opposite, in which the soundtrack consists of only the sounds of the woman giving birth.

I have to admit it took me a second viewing before I really started to appreciate this film. But now every time I see it again I like it better... and I already think it’s one of the ten best films to emerge from Italian genre cinema.

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With the death of their father all bets are off...

4 comments:

K H Brown said...

While Castellari admits to drawing from Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and Altman's McCabe and Mrs Miler he manages, I think, to give Keoma a distinctive personality of its own.

What do you think of the De Angelis Brothers score? Many commentators find it ruins the film for them. Personally I like it, as a sort of Greek chorus on the action that enhances its tragic sensibilities.

N. Kuiper said...

There's already been so much discussion about the soundtrack that I thought it would be nice not to mention it at all. But there's obviously no escape...
It had to grow on me, but now I love the soundtrack. It's sheer excess gives it also a sort of legitimacy, like it is a charater on it's own, but with the same detachment like the woman representing Death... Indeed not unlike a Greek chorus.

Anonymous said...

The soundtrack is great. Really sets it apart from all the others and it also tells the story.

Nino said...

The soundtrack is really great. Where can i find the lyrics. Please, help me.