Based on a story by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bertolucci's big screen debut is La Commare Secca (The Grim Reaper). After a prostitute is brutally murdered in a park near the Tiber river, the police track down people spotted in the park that night in hopes of catching the killer. The story is told in flashbacks as the suspects each give an account of their actions that night.
Bernardo Bertolucci proved to be Italian cinema’s great prodigy, making his debut with 'The Grim Reaper' at the age of 22, and 'Before the Revolution' at the age of 24; achievements comparable to Orson Welles directing Citizen Kane at the age of 25. He was born in Parma in 1940. He initially followed the footsteps of his father Attilio, a noted poet and critic. His poetry received prizes at competitions and a collection of his work was published while he was still a teenager. But his attention was already diverted to the cinema, especially after viewing Godard’s Breathless. His planned transition from poetry to cinema found an accomplice in fellow poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. A family friend, he regarded Bertolucci as a kindred spirit and tasked him as his assistant on his landmark debut, Accattone. The experience, described by Bertolucci as witnessing “the invention of the cinema” further ignited his own ambitions.
The Grim Reaper was based on a story by Pasolini but the resulting film displayed a visual style at some distance from the director of Mamma Roma. Where Pasolini’s camera was often static, framing his characters as subjects in Renaissance paintings, Bertolucci moved his camera constantly. His was an exuberant cinema, pivoted around visualizations of intense emotional states. Before the Revolution further extended this approach, where the protagonist’s vacillation between political engagement and his restrictive middle-class upbringing was dramatized in images of powerful lyricism. Partner was his first film in colour; it featured Pierre Clementi in a tour-de-force performance which anticipates his collaboration with Marlon Brando. The film was made in 1968, the year in which student protests broke out in different parts of the world. Like the characters of his first films, Bertolucci was a youthful Marxist, one especially attuned to the often schismatic relationship between ideology and personal character. The films which followed probed deeper into these internal schisms, inspired in part by Bertolucci’s experience with psychoanalysis.
"Vivid proof of his ability to generate genuine tension in a classic whodunit format" -- NY Times
"A very young Bernardo Bertolucci already shows his talent in this bleak, 88 minute murder mystery" -- All Movie Guide
Cast & Credits:
Francesco Ruiu / Giancarlo De Rosa / Vincenzo Ciccora / Alfredo Leggi / Gabriella Giorgelli / Santina Lisio / Carlotta Barilli / Ada Peragostini / Clorinda Celani / Directed by Bernado Bertolucci / Story by Pier Paolo Pasolini
1962 / PAL DVD 9 All Regions / Black & White / 16:9 / 88 Mins / Italian with English Subtitles / Rating 15 / MRBDVD039