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Tales of Ordinary Madness 
Written by: on May 28th, 2006

Theatrical Release Date: Italy/ France, 1981
Director: Marco Ferreri
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Ornella Muti

DVD released: May 29th 2006
Approximate running time: 97 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Nouveaux Pictures
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL
Retail Price: £19.99

Charles Sirkin is an alcoholic writer. At a poetry concert he meets a pubescent girl who steals his plane ticket home. When he returns by bus his ex-wife throws out his beer as she says he is killing himself. He chases a woman to her home and is arrested for rape, and he meets a beautiful prostitute. His relationship with the self harming prostitute deepens and scares him and he disappears on a binge. When he returns he tells her he loves her but a job offer in New York separates them and she seals her vagina with a safety pin. When he returns to find her, she has killed herself and he takes refuge by the sea where he meets another young woman.

This adaptation of the short stories of Charles Bukowski takes a very autobiographical slant. This becomes the life and loves of Charles Sirkin who is driven by appetite for sex and booze. The opening scene with an underage girl sets the tone for Sirkin’s compulsiveness and his attraction to danger and turmoil. This is the first of many sexual encounters which show Sirkin’s unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. When Sirkin finds love it frightens him and his lover and they choose unhappiness rather than the love they have.

Tales of Ordinary Madness is visually striking. Tonino Delli Colli’s cinematography is breathtaking both in the squalor of the city and in the scenes by the sea. In fact this is where the film is strongest in it’s images. Where the narrative moves its characters around with little dialogue this serves to show the isolation and disconnection at the heart of the story. Less impressive is the pieces of narration intoned by Gazzara which are probably quotes from Bukowski’s book. These quotes are portentous but lacking anything other than fashionable moral posing but then I am not a fan of Bukowskis. The difficulty of translation is probably the reason for this and this lessens the impact of the brilliant images and composition that follow the film throughout.

The film is strongest as a foreign perspective on the US. Ferreri presents a soulless world where writers work in offices in their own identical cubicle and where Sirkin is a force of instinct. Gazzara is good as the writer and manages a cynical whimsy in all around him. He also makes something of scenes which would have been laughable in other actor’s hands. When he and Muti get it on his dialogue is simply “Love…love” and he manages to make this desperate and profound rather than silly.

Exceptional cinematography and a strong turn by Gazzara make this a wistful descent into despair that is worth your time. The film works at it’s best in the images and less dialogue and narration is certainly more here. Ambitious and relatively successful stuff.

The DVD:

This anamorphic transfer from Nouveaux is rather good. Fine colour balance and a reliable sharpness throughout makes this very watchable. The original print has quite a few occasional marks and scratches on it but this is very good overall on a visual level. The audio is solid with no hiss or soundtrack noise that I remember.

The main extra here is a non-anamorphic presentation of Ferreri’s modernist take on Custer’s last stand, Don’t Touch the White Woman. This film stars Marcello Mastrionani, Michel Piccoli, Catherine Deneuve and Phillipe Noiret. It is presented in modern Paris and follows Custer culling Indians as a parallel to the Vietnam War. It is a bit of a one joke idea which outstays it’s welcome some,  but to see Piccoli as Buffalo Bill and Mastrioanni as Custer is a guilty pleasure. As an extra it is a rather impressive one. The film is presented non-anamorphically with burnt in English subs. The film shows tracking noise from about 65 minutes in.

This is a fine package from Nouveaux of a cult movie. Fans of it will need to pick it up especially as it is region free.  For other film fans this will be an intriguing rental.

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