The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
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All Critics (12)
| Top Critics (5)
| Fresh (12)
| Rotten (0)
[A] mesmeric film.
Full of mysteries, omens, ambiguities, and signs of incipient madness, and it resolves itself into a riddle that is the cinema's richest homage to all that's remarkable in Borges.
The film's color photography is extraordinarily lovely for, like the conspirators within the film, Bertolucci has a weakness for the purely theatrical effect.
It's a movie with a beautiful cinematic grace, a way of establishing atmosphere and furthering plot without a lot of talking.
[Features] sumptuous visuals and sense of high tragedy.
Bertolucci has a gift for surrounding a claustrophobic theme with a sense of light and space.
Bertolucci's superb dramatic thriller packs a powerful punch.
Pointedly analytical and lushly abstruse
Aesthetically, the film finds Bertolucci in a transitory mode, caught between his early Godard-influenced abstraction and his later style of lush, operatic camera movements and theatrical use of color and music.
Much of it is intriguing and the photography (by Storaro), sometimes evoking the paintings of De Chirico, is memorable.
Decades later, Athos Magnani (Giulio Brogi) returns to the small town where his same-named father -- an anti-fascist hero -- was assassinated in 1936 while watching an opera. The conspirators were never caught. Brogi also portrays the father in flashbacks. A red neckerchief distinguishes the latter, to avoid confusion.
The young Magnani hopes to solve the murder, but the story doesn't go much further than this. The plot doesn't have enough twists and clues to be called a "whodunnit" and, surprisingly, there isn't much of a romance element either. Magnani spends most of his time just walking in contemplation and trading words with his father's ex-mistress (Alida Valli) and three closest friends (they are now elderly but still intimidating).
Bernardo Bertolucci directed "The Spider's Stratagem" the same year as his masterpiece "The Conformist," but this film is nowhere near as good. It does have rustic Italian settings and lots of slow, lateral tracking shots. What it doesn't have is a cast with any screen charisma.
The script is adapted from a Jorge Luis Borges short story, "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero."
Originally made for Italian television but released theatrically, The Spider's Stratagem, Bernardo Bertolucci's follow-up to his dazzling The Conformist is no less ambitious, for all its humble origins. Adapting Jorge Luis Borges' Theme of the Traitor and the Hero, Bertolucci transposes the setting from Ireland to Italy, making his protagonist the son of a martyred anti-fascist leader rather than the great-grandson of a martyred Irish republican. As its title would suggest, Borges' original story - brief but bursting with ideas - examines the nature of heroism and treachery, presenting the case of a man who might be considered both hero and traitor at one and the same time and revealing why, once having discovered the identity of the assassin, a blood relation might be compelled of his own free will to hold his silence. Minor themes include history's propensity for repeating itself and the phenomenon of art influencing real-life events.
Miraculously, not only does all of this survive translation to the screen intact, Bertolucci further enriches the story by blurring the identities of his lead character and the father whose death he is investigating. Besides utilising clever editing, giving the two men the same name (Athos Magnani), emphasising their physical similarity and having a single actor play both parts, the director achieves this effect most brilliantly with the introduction of Alida Valli's character, Draifa, the murdered man's former mistress; mentally unbalanced, forever trapped in 1936, the year her lover died, she is unable to separate the past from the present, the father from the son. So successful is Bertolucci in creating this disorientating, dreamlike texture, by the time the film draws to its enigmatic conclusion we are beginning to question, not whether or not Magnani, Jr. is capable of ever leaving the village where Magnani, Sr. died - which, frankly, has been in doubt for some time - but whether we ever saw him arrive in the first place, whether he hasn't always been there in one form or another.
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