Whenever Franco Nero is asked about Elio Petri, his heartfelt appreciation for the director he worked with only once in his career, performing one of his most demanding roles, is as poignant as it is powerful: ‘Elio Petri is the greatest Italian director of the past, the only Italian director who made 10 films that were completely different from one another.’
This unqualified praise is certainly confirmed by A Quiet Place in the Country, Petri’s foray into experimental horror. It’s a film that demands repeated viewing as it is all too easy to get engrossed in the intricacies of the delirious plot. Once you know how this flamboyantly elusive tale of a troubled abstract painter obsessed with the ghost of a nymphomaniac young countess pans out, you appreciate all the more how brilliantly it is all set up. Blending sex, love, madness, identity crisis, alienation, death, art, consumerism and social commentary in a hypnotic, dazzling visual swirl of bold colours, powerful emotions and artistic expression, it is a feast of experimental visual imagery, but not without Petri’s typically dry, caustic touch.
Franco Nero stars as Leonardo, the young established painter afflicted with self-doubt and reckless fantasies, and looked after by his art dealer lover Flavia (Vanessa Redgrave). In an effort to help Leonardo overcome a creative crisis, she rents a derelict country house that he feels is the perfect place for him to work. But soon after his arrival, the previous owner of the house claims possession of her property in mysterious and increasingly dangerous ways. Mentally unstable and with a fatal weakness for beautiful women and vivid hallucinations, Leonardo gets more and more obsessed with the tragic story behind the elusive, free-spirited Wanda (Gabriella Grimaldi) and soon finds himself pushed to the limits of reality, myth and sadism.
The film’s original score by Ennio Morricone plays no small part in contributing to the moody, feverish atmosphere created in the film, while Petri, who had a passion for modern art, goes to great pains to illustrate the relation between present and past, in sinister and haunting, rather than nostalgic, manner. Perhaps A Quiet Place in the Country is best seen as a submersion in a dream that unfolds buried layers of unresolved affairs – emotional, sexual or psychological – to alluring and puzzling effect.