Quien Sabe? (1966) Directed by Damiano Damiani
It's nice to get presents that reflect the receiver and their state of being. It says plenty of good things about the giver, like that she is in tune with the person getting the gift. I gave Nick a box of rare Spaghetti Westerns for Christmas, because he always cries watching them... and because he asked for the box. OK, sometimes it's annoying how exactly he knows what he would like for a present. He doesn't go for the element of surprise, yet, he always thinks he knows what I want without asking me!
Anyway, I extended my niceness to include sitting through one of the films. Nick chose Quien Sabe? because it was supposedly less violent than the others in the box. The movie, like most of this genre I've seen, looked very good. It was a pleasure to watch just for the detail in costumes and the camera work. The story itself was pretty simple and offered no surprises or really deep thoughts or even great lines. Gian Maria Volonte played the leading Mexican outlaw whom Lou Castel's character came down to exploit in order to kill the leader of the revolution. A kind of loving relationship forms quickly between these two characters – the savage and the noble man – sort of a classic from Italian gay porn.
When Nick watches these films, he is right at home. He even looks a little like the characters onscreen when I gaze at his direction during an extra violent scene. He morphs into the action and his emotions are illustrated by the Morricone (was it really?) soundtrack. That's how much he is a Spaghetti-Western-kind-of-guy. Despite some effort, I'll never be a true fan of this genre. I have developed a respect for some aspects and enough knowledge to contextualize the genre in cinema history, but I have not found the pleasure of submission here.
It's always galling when having to tell someone what you would like for a gift. I always come across as some adolescent with Tourette's. I was hoping for Judge Dredd Complete Case Files no.12, the first volume of the Mega City law enforcer's complete 2000AD adventures in full color. I was also interested in revisiting the Mad Max series in one handy box set. Atlas Sound's latest album on vinyl was a wish. I also had the Cult Spaghetti Westerns DVD box set on my list. Three gems from the genre (Quien Sabe?, Keoma, Django) I remember viewing many years ago when they first aired on BBC 2's Moviedrome series, introduced by British film Director (and Spaghetti Western nut) Alex Cox. Well, I'm guessing you already realized what I unwrapped.
Quien Sabe? (known in English as A Bullet For the General) is a certain strain of Spaghetti Western from the mid 1960's which has a definite political bent. A few other pictures have delved into this area in the Western genre, Sam Peckinpah with The Wild Bunch and Sergio Leone with Duck, You Sucker! I think both are far superior to Quien Sabe? in that they have more depth, are better acted and have sharper, less cliched scripts. Still, Quien Sabe? came first and has a visceral energy that the other two pictures never match. Although Leone's influence looms large over Quien Sabe? especially as regards the look, and the sound (the music was supervised by Ennio Morricone). The influence is no more apparent than the casting of the amazing Gian Maria Volonté. Volonté cut his spurs on the first two parts of the Leone Dollars trilogy.
Volonté plays Chucho, a mercenary whose main purpose is to steal arms and sell them to the leader of the Mexican Revolution. On the way his gang (including Klaus Kinski as his overtly religious brother El Santo) recruit American Bill Tate (whom the gang refer to as Nino). Unbeknown to Chucho and his gang is Tate's intention, as paid for by the Mexican government, to assassinate the leader of the revolutionaries. In some ways, Quien Sabe? is a rite of passage tale of how Chucho becomes a revolutionary and rejects the lure of the capitalist dollar. Along the way, director Damiani displays a serious style in framing, costume and set pieces. Quien Sabe? is one cool looking movie. That it raises political and personal ideals along the way and has such style while doing so, I can only recommend Quien Sabe? Then again, I'm a soft touch when it comes to this kind of movie.