The late 1960’s were an exciting time for Italian cinema, especially evident in the works of its more maverick filmmakers. Headlined by the Michelangelo Antonioni’s psychedelic thriller, Blow Up, the films of this era shared a hallucinatory quality that was in keeping with the crazy, hazy culture of the day, with an emphasis on the era’s colorful fashions, bold visuals, and trippy experimental soundtracks. Elio Petri’s (director of the brilliant sci-fi/horror flick, The 10th Victim) took this approach to intoxicating new highs with A Quiet Place in the Country (Un tranquilo posto di campagna); a mind-bending meditation on sex, violence, and the madness of the tortured artist.
Franco Nero stars as Leonardo Ferri, a young painter and rising talent in the art world who is suffocating under the weight of his own success. Creatively exhausted and haunted by vivid nightmares and wild hallucinations, Leonardo moves out to the country at the behest of his lover and agent, Flavia (Vanessa Redgrave), in hopes of recapturing the innocence and peace that defined his work. Once there, Leonardo learns of the story of a young girl who died mysteriously in the villa decades before, and soon becomes obsessed with her story. With the help of some local men, all seemingly equally obsessed with the girl, a séance is conducted in order to contact her spirit and find out the truth about her death. After the ritual the mentally deteriorating Leonardo begins to see the ghost of the girl around the villa, and, through her visitations, convinces himself that only he can solve the mystery of her demise.
Set to a dissonant score by Ennio Morricone, A Quiet Place in the Country is a psycho-sexual thriller fueled by nightmare logic and ultra-stylized visuals. Like the best films of its kind, there’s always a question as to whether or not what we’re seeing is real or just the product of Leonardo’s fertile imagination, and, almost by necessity, the film lacks any sort of traditional narrative flow. Instead, we are given bursts of iconic imagery (the film opens with a pseudo crucifixion in which Leonardo is bound and surrounded by the trappings of modern society), occasional moments of quiet lucidity (mainly when Leonardo is in the company of Flavia and his peers), and lots of Freudian dream sequences, such as the scenes in which Leonardo pursues other versions of himself.
This little-seen gem is often lumped in with the horror films of the era, but A Quiet Place in the Country is more of an avant-garde thriller; more arthouse than horror film, liberally sprinkled with sex, nudity, and metaphorical violence. It’s certainly not the sort of film that will appeal to gorehounds or scare-seekers, but fans of experimental cinema and psychological horror will find a lot to love here, and Nero’s frenzied performance stands amongst the actor’s best.
A Quiet Place in the Country comes to DVD courtesy of MGM’s Limited Edition Collection, and is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film’s transfer is remarkably clean and vibrant, save for the expected artifacts and print damage present during the credits sequence, as well as the occasional stray “hair”, burn, and scratch throughout. Like many of the previous titles I’ve seen from MGM’s “archive” collection, this transfer is much better than one would expect for such an obscure release, with a sharp image and vivid colors. The film’s mono soundtrack is a bit on the harsh side, with a hint of distortion in score-heavy scenes, but it’s perfectly serviceable, and dialogue is clear throughout (presented in both dubbed and Italian with English subtitles).
A Quiet Place in the Country isn’t the sort of film that will appeal to everybody, but if, like me, you’re a fan of esoteric and offbeat cinema, you may want to add this to your must-see list. A visually arresting and thoroughly entertaining head trip, this obscure title gets an impressive DVD release from MGM, which offers a new generation a chance to witness both the genius of the woefully underrated Elio Petri, and a fearless and fantastic performance by Franco Nero. Good stuff, indeed!