Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981) | OBSCURE PICKS
“It accomplishes a sort of stark beauty glittering through its autumnal landscapes”
A tranquil existence of Primo Spaggiari (Ugo Tognazzi) – a well-known owner of a cheese factory – is upended by an abduction of his infant Giovanni (Ricky Tognazzi). The occurrence which might have transpired owing to political consequences upsets Primo who likewise has to cope with troubles concerning his business which is on the point of going bankrupt…
The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man, one of the least popular works by Bernardo Bertolucci, is an exquisitely shot piece of drama which succeeds in being engrossing and apart from that, it accomplishes a sort of stark beauty glittering though its autumnal landscapes. This is a grandiose return of Mr Bertolucci to a fine form after his exceedingly hectic La luna and an opus of excellent craftsmanship both in writing and directing – every element of this sporadically funny film seems to be executed with precision as well as astuteness. Notwithstanding, the style utilised in The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man is far from aesthetically ample since it resembles more of stylistically abstemious The Spider’s Stratagem than Last Tango in Paris or The Conformist, hence The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man might be regarded as another transitional creation constituting a bond between his movies in the seventies and eighties. The descendant of the main character – Giovanni – mocks his father for being extravagant and excessively attentive to his possession, scoffs at his behaviour and perchance envies his opulence. The protagonist endeavours to preserve a neat relationship with his son, but once his successor is kidnapped, he attempts to shirk the responsibility of paying the ransom. Subsequently, the instant he learns that his infant is supposed to be murdered, he unscrupulously strives to raise the sum, yet not to endow the criminals with it, but with a view to preventing his factory from bankruptcy. The pragmatism engenders an exposal of Primo’s personality who is judicious, yet contemporaneously inhumanely nonchalant. The palpably unsentimental atmosphere exerts a disquieting impact on its audience and displays that abundance deprives some people of their humanity and renders their value equal with their assets. Fortunately, this directional manoeuvre never feels extortionately forced by Bertolucci’s leftist world view, thus the ensemble becomes more perceptive and less caricatural in its themes than its predecessors, such as Novecento or La Luna. What also characterises The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man is the considerate, slow storytelling which constructs the story in detail resembling The Spider’s Stratagem. Through this stroke, Mr Bertolucci conjures up a sense of visual fluidity, as though scenes were blurring from one to another. Whilst The Spider’s Stratagem was at a loss for some kind of intensity, The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man incessantly comes to one’s senses on account of a sufficient portion of substance and multi-layered family relations. Though the flick is quite solemn and ceremonious, it is not exorbitantly grievous or lurid as it likewise implicates surprisingly funny sequences which are pertinently subtle and never discordant with the major tone of the movie. There is also an exploitation of voice-over which sheds light on the main hero’s thoughts. Some viewers might find it inapt, I had no nuisances with it though.
The cast is more than satisfactory since there is not a single performer who can be put the blame for being anyhow stiff or unrealistic. Ugo Tognazzi is an ingenious Italian actor who gave numerous fine performances in disparate motion pictures, but the appearance in this Bertolucci’s effort must belong to one of his best impersonations. He manages to combine timorous demeanour and slight swagger in this exigent role. Anouk Aimée playing Primo Spaggiari’s spouse is undoubtedly terrific and plausible as the tender mother in search for her lost son. She acts realistically, minus being excessively hysterical which is a frequent case with this sort of parts. Laura Morante and Victor Cavallo are not too bad either as a pair of shady negotiators assisting Primo Spaggiari.
The cinematography by Carlo Di Palma, known for collaborating with Antonioni on Il deserto rosso (1964) and Blow-Up (1966), is captivating, particularly towards the finale, the moment the autumnal panorama inconsecutively carpeted with snow turns up with its murky beauteousness as well as lifeless, red leaves. Contrary to the harsh, unsentimental climax, the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone seems somewhat doleful with its piano and harmonica riffs. Anyway, it is more distinctive than the score from La Luna crafted two years earlier.
While The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man cannot be considered to be a pièce de résistance in Bertolucci’s oeuvre, it is certainly engaging in its own way and asserts that Mr Bertolucci was capable of handling such frugal dramas not framed in epic scale. Even though it varies from other Bertolucci’s films, it is not much inferior to his grand cinematic affairs and succeeds in being smart, charming, relatively poignant, but most of all entertaining. I believe that fans of Italian cinema ought to get acquainted with this little-known venture.
7/10 stars – very good