Saturday 28 March 2020

Article: Digging for Answers

I remember first discovering Dellamorte Dellamore through an old horror film website around the time the internet was young and dial-up ruled supreme. Through a stroke of luck, I managed to record it off channel 4 a year or two later. Channel 4 being the prime location for film oddities at the time. Nowadays, the likes of Dellamorte Dellamore can be found through scrolling through Amazon on whatever home entertainment system you favour. At the time of writing, you can stream it free on-demand with Amazon Prime.

For a film nearing 30 years old, Dellamorte Dellamore has lost little of its macabre strangeness. Like so many cult features, it’s defined by not being forced into an anorexic space of specification. Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is a cemetery custodian who is sick of having to kill the city’s dead a second time around, as they keep raising from their grave for an unknown reason.
While Francesco has grown weary of being the town’s sole caretaker of the living dead (his intellectually impaired assistant Gnaghi is of little support), the Gilliam-esque bureaucracy of the local administration seems uninterested in looking into his claims. Although as opposed to filing the correct paperwork, Francesco prefers dispatching the living dead with his revolver as not only he finds it easier, he also wishes to keep his job.

Francesco soon becomes fixated on an unnamed young widow (Anna Falchi) whom he encounters at her husband’s funeral. After a frosty reception, she responds in kind. Things become complicated however when the woman dies while consummating their relationship on the deceased man’s grave. Because this is an Italian zombie horror film that looks at the word taboo with a hilarious amount of disdain.
That speck of plot doesn’t even cover half of what Dellamorte Dellamore is about or is really interested in. In the same way, George A Romero’s zombie saga made satirical commentary on American society dependant of the era, Michele Soavi’s feature leans in towards surrealism and philosophical observations. The film’s English title; “Cemetery Man” sounds so infantile when you consider that the original title Dellamorte Dellamore is Italian wordplay which can be interpreted as either the rather literal “About Death, About Love” or the slightly more poetic “About the death of love”. No doubt the change to Cemetery Man for English Speakers was brought about due to some claptrap about being “more commercial”.

Dellamorte Dellamore is not as interested in being commercially viable as it is in surrealist and abstract alliterations and pontification between love and death. Both Francesco and Gnaghi are transfixed throughout the film with ideas of re-claiming the unclaimable. From fixing shattered skulls to falling in love with re-animated, decapitated heads of teenagers. The duo is somewhat obliged to both embrace and repeal the final float down the river Styx in a way that’s compelling as well as deeply humorous. An early scene has Gnaghi fighting against the wind as it blows away dead leaves. He ends up literally lying on top of them in a futile attempt to fight the inevitable.

The film appears to owe a lot to the surrealist movement with visuals that directly lift from Rene Magritte’s painting “The Lovers”. Meanwhile, Francesco keeps seeing his unnamed infatuation in different encounters as different women, although always played by Falchi. Each confrontation has Francesco delivers a new challenge to navigate, all the while each persona acknowledges Francesco as if they’ve met and loved each other before. The surrealist notions play out in a manner that feels like an offshoot of the cinematic works of Luis Brunel. More acutely Brunel’s final feature That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). Whereas Brunel interchangeably uses two different actresses to play the temperamental Conchita from scene to scene, both films use surrealist juxtapositions to heighten each film's quixotic sentiments of love.

While the film is as gruesome as one would expect from a particular type of Italian horror movie Dellamorte Dellamore has a dirty love for lobbing metaphysical pipebombs towards its viewer. “Hell, at a certain point in life, you realize you know more dead people than living.” Francesco rambles in a plaintive voice over. Morose, twilight life thinking from the proclaimed “engineer” of a cemetery with the Latin inscription “RESURRECTURIS” on the gate. Of course, this plays into the film’s dirt dry humour. One of the film’s earliest shots earmarks a snowglobe. We witness the visual that inhabits the globe later in the movie in a way that will either take viewers out of the film or have them embrace its eccentrics. As a good cult film does. Either way, the element encapsulates the circular patterns that inhabit the film but also slaps the viewer in the face with the film’s poignant final moments. When the film asks us to reconcile with a man whose obsession with the grave takes him to the brink. What is there beyond love, beyond death, and past our imagination? When we leave the comfort of our former ourselves past the point of no return, what else exists? Anything? In the morbidly wicked view of Dellamorte Dellamore perhaps not.