Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Nero (Italy, 1992)

Produced by Dario Argento's brother Claudio, who also put his support behind such popular cult films as Profondo rosso (1975), Suspiria (1977) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), Nero is an impossible to find but highly enjoyable Italian oddity that has less to do with blood and gut horror films than with artsy cult obscurities like Delicatessen (1991). Director Giancarlo Soldi's film is definitely less aesthetic and also lacks all of Delicatessen's lightly vaudeville aspects, but the black humor and inanely surreal facets lacing both films are of a similar vein. The story of Nero is based on a book by Tiziano Sclavi, the creator of the popular cult horror comic character Dylan Dog. (Dylan Dog was the inspiration for the excellent film Dellamorte Dellamore (1994), a stylish art house zombie gore fest starring Rupert Everett released in the USA as Cemetery Man.)
In Nero, there are no zombies, but there is a body count and some blood. Nero starts when Frederico (Sergio Castellitto, familiar to fans of Oscar-nominated foreign films as the lead in 1995's L'Uomo delle stele/The Star Maker) shows up to pick up his girlfriend Francesca (Chiara Caselli - shown here not in Nero, but in some unknown Italian film), who is leaving her boyfriend. Later Francesca gets all upset because she has left her anti-cellulite skin cream in her ex's apartment, and she nags the reluctant Frederico into going back to get it. Finding the door of the apartment ajar, he wanders in and discovers Francesca's ex lying on the floor with a slit throat. Convinced that Francesca is the murderer and has sent him to clean up after her, he attempts to dispose of the body and clean up the mess. His actions result in a trail of dead bodies, both accidental deaths and murders, as he continually gets mistaken for one wrong person after another. The narrative is circular in structure, ending almost at the exact point where it started. Actually, the story is oddly difficult to follow at times, and it is arguable that the film probably makes more sense when seen stoned.
In any event, Nero is an odd and individualistic low-budget production that often surprises and confuses but that is a refreshing change from the crap one usually sees. If it's a bit artsy-fartsy, so what? At least the film maker's were willing to take a chance at doing something different. The biggest flaw in the film is Chiara Casellithe; her Francesca is so dislikable and unconvincing that one has a hard time believing that anyone would want to have her as a girlfriend at all.

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