Within the “giallo” genre there are a number of variations you will find to the main plot. Traditionally, and the most well known “gialli”, are the ones with the black gloved killer stalking and murdering beautiful women, but less known are the more psychedelic and psychological ones which usually consist of the main character having some sort of mental breakdown (which is very often sexual based) with thriller elements added to it. This sort of “giallo” seem to go hand in hand with a crazy and inventive visual style, as well as some bizarre sexual imagery. “A Quiet Place In The Country” is a “giallo” that definitely falls into this latter category.
The film opens with an extended dream sequence that is full of psychedelic imagery based around a fear of bondage or of being dominated, as well as not being in control. When our main character, Leonardo, finally awakens and the film starts in earnest, we learn that he is a famous painter who is struggling to find inspiration to create a new work of art. With a gallery showing of his new work coming up rather soon, Leonardo’s manager, Flavia, attempts to book him into a nice quiet villa perfect for an artist to concentrate on work and not be bothered by the complications of life. However Leonardo finds himself drawn to another place entirely; a large, beaten down mansion that hasn’t been occupied since the war. He becomes obsessed with the place and feels compelled to work there. However after moving into the place, Leonardo finds it incredibly hard to focus or sleep as strange, unexplained things start happening in the house. After investigating, Leonardo finds out that the house was the location of a sad murder of a girl during the war. Armed with this information, Leonardo becomes convinced that this girl’s ghost is haunting the mansion, as well as himself. Is there any truth to Leonardo’s belief or is the combination of insomnia, fear and stress causing his mind to crack?
While there is no doubt that when it comes to “giallo” films, my personal preference is the black gloved killer variety, but I usually get something out of the psychological ones too. Sadly, I did not enjoy “A Quiet Place In The Country” at all. I thought that the film’s set-up was actually pretty great and could have lead down a number of interesting paths: an artist without inspiration, slowly losing his mind whilst investigating the truth about a murder; it sounds great, but unfortunately it is handled so badly that the film never impresses.
The first problem with “A Quiet Place In The Country” is its uneven tone throughout. It is though director Elio Petri wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do with the material or what type of film he was making. The film does have scenes of genuine suspense, and yet it never commits to being a serious thriller. Rather it adds moments of broad comedy to the mix which seem so out of place with the rest of the picture and also totally undercuts any of the suspense that has been created. Speaking of out of place, do not get me started with the ridiculous S&M dream sequence that opens the film. The entire scene is pointless and preposterous (did I mention that Leonardo is wearing a diaper in the scene), and the sole reason for its inclusion it seems is to titillate the audience, which it also fails to do.
The star of “A Quiet Place In The Country” is Franco Nero who, at times, can be an actor of quite talent but here as Leonardo, he gives his most idiotic performance yet. He is beyond bad and never once convinces in the role. Not for a second do you believe this man could actually be an artist, nor is he believable as someone who is scared that he may be losing his mind or that he may be in serious danger. And seriously, what the hell were those scenes about with him dancing through the fields with that goofy grin on his face. Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Flavia, fares a lot better than her co-star but sadly her role is barely a glorified cameo. Her screen time is short and she has little to do in the film, but truthfully when she was on screen, the movie always picked up and became more interesting.
What is interesting about the film is its attitude towards sexism or sexist behavior which seemed to fit with the times when “A Quiet Place In The Country” was made. Leonardo regularly and repeatedly fondles strangers (or anyone really) on their breasts or butt for no other reason than because he feels he can. Amazingly none of the girls suffering from this abuse ever complain or slap the guy; they just accept it like it is normal behavior. There is just no way that that would fly today either in reality or in cinema but the way it is presented here so nonchalantly, you assume it was the norm back in 1968 (which was when the film was made).
Usually when a “giallo” fails to engage through its storyline, you can always fall back on its visuals which are normally quite inventive, as well as its score which very often were quite memorable. When the credits started at the beginning of “A Quiet Place In The Country” and the name Ennio Morricone hit the screen, I will admit that I got a little excited because the man is a genius and some of his greatest scores have come from the “gialli” he has done. However his score for “A Quiet Place In The Country” would have to be the least memorable I have heard from him. It did nothing for me at all and it just did not stick in my head. Sadly Luigi Kuveiller’s flat and lifeless cinematography also failed to impress.
Overall I found “A Quiet Place In The Country” to be a lackluster affair and a poor choice for MIFF to showcase the merits of the “giallo” genre. While it is not the worst “giallo” I have ever seen, it did not rate very highly thanks to an inconsistent tone and a ridiculous performance from leading man Franco Nero.