Aka-La Cinque giornate
Reviewed By-Sean Patrick Dolan Director: Dario Argento Cast: Adriano Celentano, Enzo Cerisuco, Marilu Tolo, Luisa De Santis, Glauco Onorato, Carla Tato, Sergio Graziani Source: Luminous Films and Video Works, VHS
Dario Argento achieved near overnight success, thanks in part to his father’s clout in the Italian film industry and his big break- co-writing the script to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti western ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968). His first three films (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), CAT O’ NINE TAILS(1971), FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (1971)) were monster hits in Italy- and only FOUR FLIES failed to draw similar reactions abroad. So what does Argento do after being crowned the "Italian Hitchcock", the master of the giallo? He makes a period piece, a comedy/tragedy set in Italy during the European revolutions of 1848. Luigi Cozzi, who worked with Argento on his Italian TV series "Doors To Darkness (1973)" and helped write the script to FIVE DAYS IN MILAN, succinctly stated the reason for this move: "People are sick of gialli". Another motivating factor that should not be overlooked is the impact the 1968 student riots in Paris had on European writers and directors such as Argento. In Alan Jones’ "Profondo Argento", the director states, "Although the film was set at the dawn of Italian independence it still reflected contemporary issues (56)."
It does not take a great deal of historical background to understand or appreciate the film. In 1848, the kingdoms and city-states that would soon become the nations of western Europe that we now know were struggling with the issues of self-determination, democracy, constitutional government, liberalism, and socialism. In the case of the Italian city-states, in particular Milan, the first step in the process was ousting a foreign power from their territory- Austria. Keep in mind that revolutions are never a cut and dry issue like foreign wars often are, and that the struggles involved were not just between Italians and Austrians, but also between moderate and radical Italians who had very different ideas about what type of nation would emerge. The film opens to a patriotic song and then cuts to a sleeping man awakened by a rat attempting to gnaw on his hand. He smashes the rat and flings it carelessly across the prison courtyard- and the rat lands in another man’s mouth. The ensuing fight is cut short when a mortar shell destroys the prison wall, allowing a thief, Cainazzo (Adriano Celentano), to escape. Cainazzo is the protagonist of FIVE DAYS OF MILAN, and we will experience the revolution through his point of view. The first thing that Cainazzo does is visit his old gang of friends at their hideout and learns that his former partner,
Zampino (Glauco Onorato), is now a revolutionary hero the people call "Liberty". Cainazzo knows little about the revolution, so his friends help him pick "the right flag" to carry on the street to stay out of trouble. Despite the advice, Cainazzo nearly ends up leading a revolt when men start to march behind him, assuming he is a man on a mission. He finally notices the people following him when he stops to relieve himself at a wooden urinal. He leaves his flag and his "revolt" there.Next Cainazzo meets his sidekick, Romolo (Enzo Cerisuco), a baker from Rome who came to Milan to work for his uncle. Romolo’s bakery has been destroyed by mortar fire, so he decides to tag along with Cainazzo. He is a nuisance; the two constantly bicker and Cainazzo even strikes him- still, he cannot get rid of Romolo. The "dynamic duo" have a great deal of adventures together. They fight on both sides of the revolution, survive several harrowing battles, save a traitor’s widow from an angry mob, and even "assist" a pregnant woman, (Luisa De Santis), in giving birth. The two become separated at times, but fate always seems to reunite the two. Although Cainazzo’s goal throughout the series of events is to find his old friend, Zampino, he becomes more and more curious about the nature of the revolution and he wants to learn more. By the end of the film, Cainazzo has indeed learned more than he bargained for and, having lived through tragedy, he leaves us not as the lighthearted thief we first encountered but as a bitter, disillusioned man.
Many critics have described this film as being in the style of the "Spaghetti Western", making comparisons to Peckinpah’s WILD BUNCH (1969) and Leone’s FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE (1971), but I have to disagree. The fact that Cozzi and even Argento have made similar statements doesn’t sway me either; when selling a film to the public, it is often helpful to make comparisons to other successful films. What I see on the screen just doesn’t match up- this is not a violent film. The first half of the film, particularly, is far more comedic than violent, even during action sequences. The relationship between Cainazzo and Romolo is that of a classic comedy duo such as Laurel and Hardy, and many of the early scenes are shot in fast motion with only a musical accompaniment- reminiscent of even earlier films from the silent era. This is a deliberate choice, and no example illustrates this more clearly than the scene in which Cainazzo and Romolo help the pregnant woman give birth. This scene is filled with slapstick comedy, and it is a metaphor for the revolution itself. Cainazzo and Romolo know as little about "liberty" and "democracy" as they do about childbirth. The two men represent the average citizens of Milan, and by extension, the Italian states and the rest of Europe at the time.
As the film advances- keep in mind the total scope of this film is the five days of the revolution in Milan- Argento switches from Three Stooges style comedy to a more biting satirical tone. In another scene, a Contessa (Marilu Tolo), is allowing people to loot her mansion of furniture to barricade the street for an ambush. She is excited by the war and her "brave soldiers", and she acts as if it is all a game. When a man is shot right in front of her, she is not disgusted or terrified, but aroused. She rubs his blood between the deep cleavage of her breasts. She massages a rifleman’s strong biceps. When the battle is over and her group has won, she allows the men to take turns bedding her. Next, Cainazzo and Romolo enter an abandoned palace to pick over what has not already been looted. Inside they meet a crazy old aristocrat and his incestuous granddaughter. The old man, who resembles the Roman Emperor Nero, is a symbol of decadence and power. He has a warning for Cainazzo-that the common man is being tricked and used by the bourgeoisie and the foreigners, and that when the revolution is over, they will be no better off. Throughout this film, the rulers of the Italian and Austrian states are heard but never shown, always obscured by a flag or other symbol- and always from locations far removed from the chaos in Milan.
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!
Only in the last two days of the revolution does the film abandon comedy completely, as the violence in the city of Milan has reached its peak and society has deteriorated. Cainazzo and Romolo are recruited by a revolutionary named "Sir Baron" (Sergio Graziani) and fight briefly on his side. After a horrific massacre in the square, Cainazzo is stunned by the death and destruction all around him. In this scene, Argento pays tribute to another tale of a failed revolution, Sergei Eisenstein’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925). The massacre in the square contains familiar images of the famous "Odessa Steps" sequence, complete with a mother being shot dead with her young child in her arms. Cainazzo decides to leave Milan, but he is taken prisoner by Austrians at the city gates. He is brought before "the Judge"- Zampino! He discovers that his old friend Zampino has sold out to the Austrians. Cainazzo, a thief himself, is appalled by his friend’s ruthlessness, his complete disregard for all the lives he has ruined and ended while profiting from the revolution. Zampino asks Cainazzo to join him, but he refuses.
Zampino still lets him go and Cainazzo returns to the heart of the city, where a final tragedy strikes A Milanese woman is caught in bed with an Austrian soldier. A mob kills the soldier and prepares to gang rape the woman for being a traitor. Romolo intervenes, and a fight ensues, in which Romolo accidentally kills a Patriot. He is taken away, sentenced to death by firing squad. Cainazzo wanders the streets, witnessing the end of the conflict. Afterwards, bourgeoisie leaders are on a podium, recalling their "glorious battles"- battles which were fought almost exclusively by the common man, not them. Cainazzo is at the front of the crowd of spectators, and is invited to speak. "I think you’ve been tricked," he says to the crowd. Pointing to the men on the podium, he goes on. "They, they tricked you. And how they tricked you! WE’VE BEEN LIED TO!", he roars.
Maitland McDonagh, whose book "Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds" has long been considered the preeminent authority on Argento films (until Jones’ "Profondo Argento" eclipsed it this past year), gave FIVE DAYS OF MILAN a scant two pages of coverage. This is understandable, as her focus was on the director’s career in gialli and fantasy horror films. Among other claims, she states: "Argento demonstrates no natural flair for comedy, and the old theatrical joke about dying being easy while comedy is hard comes to mind (96)". Her dismissive attitude towards the film, which does not fit neatly within the rest of Argento’s body of work, has helped to ensure that the film remains almost completely inaccessible to Argento fans, having no legitimate DVD or even VHS release. While this film is admittedly a far cry from Argento’s usual territory, you can still see Argento’s unique sense of dark humor throughout the film. And while it is a historical drama set specifically in Italy, the political issues addressed in the film are nearly universal. This film should definitely be seen by all Argento fans, as well as by all Italian film fans with an open mind.
Story: 3.5 Bitch Slaps
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