Friday, August 27, 2010

Revisiting the Faves: La Scorta

Ricky Tognazzi's "La Scorta" ranked as my number 6 film of the year in 1996.

Italian actor turned director Ricky Tognazzi's "La Scorta" is a tangled web of a movie that depicts the tumultuous intricacies of the Italian government through the workmanlike eyes of four bodyguards. Much like Paulo Sorrento's "Il Divo"- or a more likely comparison is the great Francesco Rosi and his cinematic exposes of Italian bureaucracy in magnificent films such as "Hands Over the City" or "Illustrious Corpses"- Tognazzi is interested in titillating the brain instead of jarring with action. Reading a plot description of "La Scorta" would certainly lead one to believe the film is an action packed Italian rip off of Johnnie To's "The Mission" or Scorsese-lite. It's anything but. Yet it's this serious attention to the duplicity of elected officials through hushed conversations and territorial pissing matches that imbues "La Scorta" with an even more serious level of tension. The thought of a car bomb or random motorcycle hit man is more terrifying than machine guns blazing.

The position of an elected official (or judge) is a terminal career in Italy. They require bodyguards (la scorta) and as Mandolesi (Claudio Amendelo) is assigned to judge Michel de Francesco (Carlo Cecchi), he soon adapts to the dangerous job of chauffeuring and skimming the balconies as he accompanies the judge to and from work. As the new guy on the unit with three others, their shared sense of a cliched job soon turns into an intimate affair as the judge uncovers a shadowy deal between local officials and hired thugs who control a portion of the country's water supply. As the judge sets his sights on bringing down the crooked officials, Mandolesi and his crew become friends with the judge, sharing their dinner tables with him and eventually holing up with him in an underground bunker when the investigation turns violent. Each bodyguard is fleshed out with strong characteristics and the unity that forms between them is warm and articulate. Tognazzi frames each day going to and from work as a long overhead shot of the two car parade that forces the viewer to search for danger in the edges of the frame. Not only is this highly cinematic for touristic purposes of the beautiful Italian landscape, but surprisingly old school in a movie world that only understands a car chase (or a car simply going fast) has to be cut every half second.

I can't remember how or where I first heard about "La Scorta" in early '96, but I do remember the experience of sitting in a theater (with only 1 or 2 other people) and having one of those experiences of discovering a hidden treasure. In the same year that P.T. Anderson broke onto the scene with his two dynamite features "Hard Eight" and "Boogie Nights" and with Scorsese the master reigning supreme with "Kundun", Tognazzi's "La Scorta" is in pretty exclusive company.

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