Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ordine Firmato In Bianco (1974)

aka Orders Signed In White

Following orders of his mafia bosses, Luca Albanese (director Gianni Manera) - a man we are traumatically informed carries "balls like watermelons" - and some colleagues rob a safe with a lot of money. Against their orders, one of the gang members shoots a civilian, so word comes down for the team and their girlfriends to lay low somewhere with the money until the eye of the public looks elsewhere.

Alas, some masked, gloved killer strangles one of the girlfriends in the safe house (but don't worry, only after the mandatory random lesbian shenanigans), painting her brow white. Clearly, a new safe house is in order, so the gang goes to the summer country house of one of the girlfriends' uncles in Abruzzo. To nobody's surprise, the killer, slowly, oh so very slowly, kills himself through the cast while babbling nonsense, and nobody else does anything of import.

Now, this short description makes Gianni Manera's Ordine sound like a taught little thriller attempting to find the golden middle ground between eurocrime and giallo, but in truth, the film is an absolute mess made by a director who couldn't tell a story to save his life. Stylistically, the film jumps randomly between cliché giallo shots as reconstructed by a blind man editing with a pair of paper scissors, would-be existential dialogue scenes, and melodramatic gangster shit that doesn't seem to realize you have to earn your melodrama. There's an awkwardness surrounding every single element of the film.

The plot is presented as a series of random vignettes, overlong transition scenes, sudden inexplicably bizarre dream sequences, and clichés half-remembered and badly digested from other movies until they turn into something like a baked-beans induced nightmare, full of non-sequitur dialogue ("Don't you think it's…who knows? Something? Strange?" is rather typical for the film's style), sudden outbreaks of monologizing about one of the gang's dream to make a film, and what can only be described as random pieces of other films. Quite consequently, Ordine also ends on what feels like fifteen minutes ripped out of a totally different film about a minor character, some sort of political sub-Damiani abomination. It's clear that Manera would very much have liked for the film to be read as a political allegory, or some sort of existentialist tract (the assistant director was supposedly called "Albert Camus", for Sartre's sake!) but it probably would have helped his case if he had actually shot one.

Don't get me wrong, though. If you have the patience to wade through the film's needlessly long transitional scenes, don't fall asleep even though its scenes just never seem to want to end, and are able to see Manera's attempts to have not a single coherent conversation in his movie as rather charming, you may find Ordine Firmato In Bianco to be rather hypnotic in its incoherence, interesting in Manera's technical incompetence, and really just way too strange to be ignored. The film does at the very least contain a handful of scenes so awkwardly staged and bizarre it's quite impossible for me not to feel the kind of misguided love one feels for a mutant teddy bear. Just take the endless sequence where the crazy wife (I think) of the caretaker of house number two (whom I didn't mention before because she doesn't actually have a reason to be in the movie) finds her husband knifed by the killer and is then hunted through the house by her half-dead husband. It's stupid, ill-advised and goes on much too long, but it's also the kind of scene you just won't find in a sane movie.

I'm not saying this lightly, but Manera's technical awkwardness, the obvious lack of a budget, the absolute loopiness of his dialogue, and the sheer unfulfilled ambition of Ordine Firmato In Bianco remind me most of saintly Edward Wood (jr.). And really, what greater compliment could I make a movie and a filmmaker than that?

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