del film "Ormai è fatta!"
Toy Pistol and Charm Will Go Only So Far
The action takes place one day in July 1973, a sort of dog day afternoon
Horst Fantazzini was a real-life italian bandit whe, if the version
of his exploit presented in "Outlaw!" (which is based on
Mr. Fantazzini's autobiography) can be trusted, robbed a series of
banks armed only with a toy pistol and his boyish charm.
Mr. Fantazzini was something of a legendary figure in Italy in the
1960's, and Enzo Monteleone's opening montage, with its speeded-up
spaghetti-western style score, efficiently inscribes Mr. Fantazzini
in the pop folklore of the decade. Reenactments of his various holdups
and escapes from prison alternate with black-and-white newspaper images
of the Beatles and demonstrators and police fighting in the streets.
In these early sequences, Mr. Fantazzini's own persona combines the
radical cheek of the era's celebrities with the theatrical flair of
its political radicals, and the movie itself seems realy to proceed
in a similary breezy, daring style.
But as soon as the opening credits are done, the mood shifts. The
main action of "Outlaw!" unfolds during a single day in
July 1973 when a grim, desperate Fantazzini, using a very real gun,
tries to break out of a Piemond prison, wounding three guards and
taking two more hostage. The basic narrative structure of the film
which tracks the tense, tedious negotiations between a hostage-taker
and the forces of law and order, may remind you of "Dog Day Afternoon"
or of a half-dozen episodes of "Hill Street Blues." It's
not giving much away to note that these stories usually end badly.
What makes "Outlaw!" particulary effective is that it quietly
focuses on the human dimensions of its story, refusing the temptations
of sensationalism and melodrama.
There is not much violence in the movie, but what there is - in particular
Fantazzini's possibly inadvertent shooting of the guards - is taken
seriously, but the characters and the filmmakers alike. And the relationships
that develop in the course of a long, nerve-racking day - especially
between Fantazzini and his hostages (Giovanni Esposito and Emilio
Solfrizzi), but also among the assorted bureaucrats who must try to
defuse the crisis - take on surprising emotional complexity.
Fantazzini, who likes to boast of his anarchist parentage and to quote
Bertold Brecht, advises his charges, both of whom are migrants from
southern Italy, to strike for better working conditions. Meanwhile,
outside the prison the prosecutor and the police chief argue over
jurisdictor and procedure, while the prison manager (Antonio Petrocelli),
whose personality is an unstable alloy of vanity and sensitivity,
vacillates between selfish worry that is reputation for running a
humane, modern institution will be ruined and honest terror that lives
will be lost.
"Outlaw!" is being advertised as a comedy, and it does have
some funny moments. But these all arise from the terrible absurdities
of its central situation. The overall mood is less madcap than melancholy,
and what resonates as the movie ends, in spite of the jaunty music
over the final credits, is the sense that we have seen something approaching
tragedy: the confrontation between an angry, passionate, powerless
individual and the well-meaning, rational, but ultimately murderous
cruelty of the state.
Mr. Monteleone and his cinematographer, Arnoldo Catinari, have saturated
"Outlaw!" with an unusual sort of period favor. This is
not because they're ostentatiously precise in their attention to clothes
and aircuts. (It's doubtful, in any case, that fashions in inmate
muffi or corrections officers' uniforms change much from year to year),
but because the film itself feels like a throwback to an earlier,
more politically volatile era.
With its scrappy cinéma vérité style, its sparing,
precise use of formal tricks and its understated but unmistakable
ideological program, "Outlaw!" could almost be a lost specimen
of post-1960's political filmmaking, made by dutiful, slightly timid
children of Godard and Lina Wertmuller. But "Outlaw!" is
less a political film than an expression of nostalgia, not for the
1970's as such, but for an approach to filmmaking that flourished
in Europe in those years and that seems in retrospect as heroic -
and as doomed - as Horst Fantazzini himself.
The New York Times, Wednesday, February 2, 2000