Life has always been full of atrocities committed against innocents and innocence alike. When a film uses a real historical example, it can often help elevate the plot of political intrigue even beyond what we see in fantastical lurid worlds such as GAME OF THRONES, at least ideologically. There is something about telling a grievous tale that is based on a real life event which pleases the brain as well as our guts, even if this tale is basically the same old sexploitation retread designed for lurid, guilty pleasure. This is the story of a sixteenth century man who gives new meaning to the phrase “suffering for his art”. Let us now also partake of “THE SACK OF ROME” and check out its “booty”.
Franco Nero stars as Gabriele di Poppi, one of the most accomplished sculptors and painters in Rome who lives his life as an artist and is largely unconnected to the petty concerns of mankind round him. This is why when he receives word that there is a marauding band of German barbarians working their way through the country, he doesn’t feel the need to accept the churches offer to hole up behind the protective walls of the castle with all of the other noblemen of his small village. This proves to be a terrible mistake ( the type you can base a whole movie on, conveniently), as his palatial home is soon overrun by a motley collection of soldiers of fortune who ransack his gold, destroy all his art, and repeatedly gang rape his beautiful wife, Gesuina. Adding insult to injury, the leader of the rebels forces Franco to spend his days painting a heroic portrait of him; a work of art that will rival the grandeur and beauty of the religious art for he is famous for.
Poppi is stoic about his change in fortune, but even so, we see the small touches of a proud man in sudden decay. He slowly goes mad, and it seems the only things he wants to create are disgusting renditions of salamanders and flowers made of flesh while his every spare moment is spent agonizing and having heated debates with both himself and his captors about the futility of art, life, and, especially, beauty. For 96 minutes we watch this poor man and his wife get brutalized, insulted, and degraded in every possible fashion, and the ending, when it occurs, is at once predictable and long overdue. Eventually this tormented artist will pay the ultimate price for learning how to capture humanity on the canvas, and it is then is he turns suffering into an art all its own. The viewer will feel for this Poppi, who doesn’t make any attempt to escape, resist, or fight back, but may also question (as I did) the point of devoting 96 minutes to tell this story.
This resulting film is kind of a goof, but I could tell that director, Fabio Bonzi, aspired to better things. Its common premise that only true pain can create real art is high minded, eloquent, and delicate, but the downside, of course, is that audiences sensitive to tales of a nonviolent men persevering against bad people who live to steal and plunder using only his artistic merit to do so, probably aren’t the target audience you want to subject to an hour of a half of a guy’s wife being violently gang raped. Conversely, those of you consenting adults who like sexploitation movies will be bored by this film because it’s nowhere near as graphic as you would expect from other unrated titles. Moreover, I kept hoping that Franco would eventually snap, then cut a bloody swathe through his captors and use their entrails as paint for a new series of works. Sadly, no such thing happens, and, as such, I really failed to see the “art” in such an abstract mix of soft core soliloquy/porn poignancies of one man’s near martyrdom. This film was an absolute mess, yet unlike most things I review, I can’t say it was one note, simple, or stupid. Admittedly, it was quite nuanced and complex in the way it bored me fucking batty.
I give it a two skulls because it confused me to the point where I couldn’t tell if it was just being pointless or thematically pretentious as Franco Nero himself at the beginning of the film. Also the actress who played Gesuina (Vittora Belvedere) had the type of absolute God-given beauty that you seemingly only see in subtitled Italian films like this.
Extras Include a stills gallery.