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July 2011

Face To Face

cast: Tomas Milian, Gian Maria Volont�, William Berger, Jolanda Modio, and Carole Andr�

director: Sergio Sollima

92 minutes (12) 1967
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Eureka DVD Region 2

RATING: 8/10
review by Richard Bowden

Faccia a faccia

Faccia a faccia (aka: Face To Face) is best seen as a companion to The Big Gundown (aka: Le resa dei conti, 1966), two out of a total of three spaghetti westerns directed by Sergio Sollima, and both shot for producer Alberto Grimaldi. Sollima is often mentioned in the same breath as the two other directors of spaghettis, Leone and Corbucci, although by comparison he remains less appreciated than his filmic contemporaries, and with a smaller oeuvre. Certainly the three men had differing approaches to the genre: whereas Leone is operatic and mythic, and Corbucci could be in turn black-humoured and surreal, Sollima very often drew upon the idea of political allegory. And where all three directors, especially Leone, had great affection for the classic Hollywood oater, Sollima stood apart as the director who tried to do something fresh, communicating most directly some of the febrile social concerns of the time. As one critic, Alain Petit, has observed, Sollima's westerns "have an atmosphere of anger, tinged with much bitterness," which continues to give them impact even today, even with all the clich�s of their production. Sollima's last western Run, Man, Run (aka: Corri uomo corri, 1968) - the 'official' sequel to The Big Gundown, was less successful on a number of levels.

Both Face To Face and The Big Gundown have at their centre two participants. In the earlier film we find Tomas Milian, one star of Face To Face, paired with Lee van Cleef. Van Cleef plays an implacable lawman who, for the political advantage of himself and his masters is sent to hunt down an escaped Mexican (Milian), accused of raping and murdering a child. Only towards the end of the chase does the lawman realise the truth behind the accusations, and sides with the outlaw. In Face To Face, Milian again plays a desperado, one 'Beauregard' Bennett, who is thrust together with recuperating Professor Brad Fletcher (Gian Maria Volonte) when, at the start, he kidnaps the academic during a daring escape from custody.

Fletcher, an intellectual who, in the words of his friends, has "always put up with things (and) needs to react" gradually forges an unlikely bond with the infamous outlaw, who originally thought to kill his captive. Beauregard is a man of action now made to think by his new companion just as, in turn, the professor is forced to try things he had never really contemplated - and gradually acquires a taste for them. In both films then, an 'outsider' is paired with a peasant or peon, supplying contrasts in culture, expectations and ideology that trigger change, as surely as the usual Colt .45.

As distinct from those found in those Leone's amoral scenarios and Corbucci's baroque narratives typically focusing on self-sufficient heroes and their problems, Sollima's main characters frequently represent something other than themselves, certainly more than just, say, greed for gold or lust for revenge. It's something Christopher Frayling has noted rather grandly as the "revolutionary strategies (their relationships) come to symbolise" or, more plainly, showing cowboys radicalised. Of course, the western being amongst the most conservative of genres, this process is somewhat tempered, but it's still a surprise for a genre fan to find such processes working at all.

Normally the closest gotten to such a process in any regular Hollywood western production is a few townsfolk resenting a big landowner's thugs, breaking rotten township cartels, or marching in anger on the jail. But in Sollima's work there is a fervour for something else, with wider import. Thus in The Big Gundown, at the close, the lawman joins forces with his former prey only to then separate, riding on out north and south to presumably 'spread the word', and raise the consciousness of issues. In Face To Face, the scenario is less simple. Unlike the earlier film, the two main characters are together and interrelating almost constantly. As a sort of bridge between the increasing confusions between 'good' and 'bad' is a third character, Stringo (William Berger), an undercover Pinkerton man. While the moral positions of professor and bandit become intertwined, then interchanged, Stringo's position remains constant, one foot usefully kept in the criminal camp for a while then, by the end, out of it.

While Beauregard is first presented as a mindless and much feared killer, as the film progresses so our impression of him changes. At first seen in isolation, his associates the 'wild gang' having been captured or killed, slowly the bandit become more of a social animal as a new gang forms about him - a process which reaches its zenith when he rides into the renegade community of Pietra del Fuoco with the new gang around him, to be welcomed as the leader of all. Finally his moral transformation is complete when he witnesses the death of a Mexican boy, an apt casualty of a bank raid masterminded by the professor. So much is the changed effected that Beauregard allows himself to be captured without killing anyone, and only draws his gun again in different circumstances. As he makes clear, he has discovered the justice of the heart.

Fletcher's change is more complex. At first at a loss when confronted by the violence and instinctive reactions of the criminous, his intellectual curiosity in his new environment grows, leading him to increasing aggression and callousness. Eventually the thinker can justify his actions by cold logic: "to kill alone is murder; to kill with ten men is an act of violence; but to kill with a thousand men - that is an organised act, a war - a necessity!" Beginning with a shocking act of rape, and proceeding to his instituting a new social regime at Pietra del Fuoco during Beauregard's enforced absence, the professor's final position is aptly fascistic. The closing judgement on the changes wrought on Beauregard and Fletcher is down to Stringo, whose moral stance, although sometimes hidden, has remained steady throughout. At the end of the film it is left to him to decide who lives, and who dies, and which of his quarries deserves a second chance.

Away from any weighty critical considerations, it should also be stressed that Sollima turns in a good action film with Face To Face. With Volonte, Milian and Berger, the director benefited from an excellent cast - Volonte in particular revealing a striking demonstration of range, especially when one compares his character and performance here to the criminals he essayed in a couple of Leone's films. In the short interview which accompanies the film on the DVD, Sollima is quick to point out how the difference in acting styles and appearance of his two main leads played to the film's advantage. He also relates how some of Face To Face was inspired by his wartime experiences, and has especially praise for his musical collaborator Morricone - although it has to be said that the score for this movie is not one of his very best. Also accompanying the main feature are two trailers, interesting as they both rely upon music and image to sell the product rather than any voiceover or dialogue. The print of the subtitled film is good, without being pristine.

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