Requiescant Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
A young man named Requiescant (Lou Castel) is raised to be a pacifist by a travelling preacher after Confederates massacred his family. But, when his step-sister runs away, the pursuit reveals a natural talent as a sharp-shooter as well as a bloody and unexpected confrontation with his past. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
The challenged pacifist is a common character trend throughout revisionist westerns, appearing in early subgenre entries, like William A. Wellman’s Ox-Bow Incident (1943) and George Stevens’ Shane (1953). This trope was created in reaction to of early pulp westerns, where protagonists tended to be thinly drawn stereotypes that were guided by inherently heroic traits. As Italy’s antihero-driven spaghetti western tradition matured, the challenged pacifist became a vital narrative custom. The trope fits the spaghetti western format so well, because transformation is one of the genre’s most prevalent themes, alongside revenge and greed. Popular transformation were first found in movies where apprentice gunslingers learned the ropes from an aging veteran and cynical revolutionary participants evolving into true believers. Where pacifists were involved, these transformations were often connected to ironic tragedy. Even vigilante movies, where violence is celebratory catharsis, cases of moral and ethical turnabouts tend to be framed by pessimism.
Transformation was key to the more politicized Zapata westerns – a subgenre named for Mexican Revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata Salazar. The most common Zapata transformations were an outsider’s evolution from cynical exploitationeer (usually some kind of mercenary or arms dealer) to true believer and a proletariat's evolution from confused participant to jaded leader (sometimes replacing a corrupted leader in the process). However, there’s a history of movies where pacifists, usually highly educated sophisticates, are dragged into moral dilemmas as they realize the necessity for violence in revolutionary situations. For example, in Sergio Corbucci’s Compañeros (1970), the two leads (Tomás Milián and Franco Nero) are tasked with rescuing an idealistic professor (Fernando Rey), who struggles with the fundamental challenges of a bloodless coup. In the most merciless example of this model, Sergio Sollima’s Face to Face (Italian: Faccia a Faccia, 1967), another quixotic teacher (Gian Maria Volonté) is kidnapped by a revolutionary outlaw (Milián again) and slowly turns into a calculating and cold-blooded murderer as he adopts the bandit’s ideology.
This brings us to the subject of this review, Carlo Lizzani’s Requiescant (aka: Kill and Pray and Let Them Rest, 1967). Requiescant is an extension of the “pacifist’s journey,” combined with the accidental revolutionary. Lizzani and an army of credited writers (Lucio Battistrad, Andrew Baxter, Adriano Bolzoni, Armando Crispino, Denis Greene, and Edward Williams) imply that violence may be an unavoidable part of a person’s destiny. The film opens with the ambush slaughter of the title character’s entire family, alongside dozens of other Mexican peasants and community leaders. The not-so-subtle indication thereafter is that Requiescant is karmically scarred by the event and that no amount of love and religious fervency can change his fate.
Lizzani was an old hand at directing by 1967, having been at the job since the early ‘50s. Like his contemporaries, his output was eclectic, from war films (Achtung! Bandit!, 1950), to dramas (Esterina, 1959) and comedies (Lo Svitato, 1956), but he is probably best-known for his early entries in the poliziotteschi (Eurocrime) genre, including Wake Up and Die (Italian: Svegliati e uccidi, 1967) and Bandits in Milan (Italian: Banditi a Milano; aka: The Violent Four, 1968). He directed only one other western (that I know of – Italian filmmakers often went uncredited), The Hills Run Red (Italian: Un Fiume di Dollari; aka: A River of Dollars, 1966), which is the tonal flipside of Requiescant. The Hills Run Red was written by Piero Regnoli, who, despite being more famous for his horror output (Riccardo Freda/Mario Bava’s I Vampiri, 1957, and Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City, 1980, among others), had also written one of Corbucci’s most mainstream-friendly westerns, Navajo Joe (also 1966). It sticks to well-worn narrative threads that would otherwise be comfortable in an American western. The story centers around a post-war Confederate, Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter), who serves a five-year sentence for theft after agreeing to take the fall for a friend, Ken Seagull (Nando Gazzolo). In turn, Seagull agrees to look after the soldier’s family. When he finally emerges from prison, Brewster learns that Seagull has used the stolen Union money to become a powerful land baron and gone back on his word, leaving Jerry’s wife dead and his son an orphan.
In lesser hands, Jerry’s fevered drive for vengeance would be played completely straight, but, likely thanks to the popularity of Leone’s tongue-in-cheek Man with No Name series, Lizzani and Regnoli eschew monotony by opting for an unexpectedly amusing tone. Though rarely as over-the-top wacky as the later spoof westerns, The Hills Run Red is a rambunctious impression of Leone. Requiescant differs in that it takes its time to dote on the consequences of violence. The Hills Run Red’s most dramatic death, that of Jerry’s wife, occurs off-screen, while almost all of the on-screen violence is exciting and fun. Requiescant opens with a brutal, blood-soaked massacre that punctuates every other threat in the film. We’re conditioned to expect the bleakest possible outcome. When Requiescant (the character) is forced into drunken target practice, it’s easy to assume that he’s going to miss and kill the poor woman forced to hold the candelabra he is shooting at and when he is tortured for information, it’s just as simple to assume he’s going to die. This change in energy extends to Requiescant’s more lyrical imagery. Lizzani switches gears from The Hills Run Red’s focus on nimble action and pacing to a more evocative style that escalates sense of brutality and grief. The final act is every bit as gothic as a Mario Bava horror movie without losing the creative
Despite the vast differences in style and tone, the two films converge thematically on some points. Jerry and Requiescant both return from long stints away from the outside world and both films run credits over montages of these separate lives. Jerry toils away in a hard-labour prison camp, dwelling on his release, while Requiescant enjoys nature, develops skills, and completely forgets his past. Both characters emerge ignorant of the trials ahead and simply react to the violence that is thrust upon them and are forced into antiheroic positions when they realize their retributions are tied to the community. The key difference is that Jerry is not a pacifist – he’s on a mission to commit violence. In contrast, Requiescant’s journey is intended to be a peaceful retrieval, but his almost supernatural vigilantism (which comes so naturally that he doesn’t even seem to notice it at times) destabilizes a cruel regime and leaves a swath of weapons in his wake – weapons that the subjugated Mexicans gather for future use. In effect, his instinctual, often confused actions end up arming a militia. Eventually, he discovers his Mexican heritage and remembers the pre-credit slaughter he survived, so the third act is a bit more of a standard-issue retribution. There are still plenty of clever little twists (the titular character organizes one of the most elaborate gun duels I’ve ever seen), but it is a little disappointing to shift into familiar territory after an hour of surprises. I also find it interesting to note that, without these nods to revenge westerns, Requiescant is really a movie about the corruptive nature of the world, where a pious man becomes an unwitting tool of reckoning. Jerry and Requiescant are also both invited into the employ of the villain, but this seems less like a revisited motif than a case of two more movies that were heavily influenced by the plot structure of Fistful of Dollars (or, rather, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which it was based on).
Race relations have a place in a number of Zapata westerns, but the subject of slavery is rarely acknowledged, let alone openly discussed. This is remarkable, given how many spaghettis take place during either the American Civil War or the Mexican Revolutionary War. The Hills Run Red and Requiescant slide similar political/social messages beneath their post-Civil War historical trappings, but only Requiescant really explores the aftereffects of the Union’s victory. Lizzani and his writers embed the spirit of post-Civil War racism in the film’s main villain, George Ferguson (played by angel-eyed pretty-boy Mark Damon, straight off a double stint as the title characters in Sergio Corbucci’s Johnny Oro and Romolo Guerrieri’s Johnny Yuma, both in 1966). During a dinner-time exposition sequence, Ferguson recounts the South’s defeat. He describes meeting a defeated, but still proud General Lee and says that he learned “In aristocracy, there is strength” and that “The Old South has much to say yet.” This crooked sense of dignity and self-appointed aristocracy is, eventually, his downfall, as he can’t believe that the lowly Mexicans are capable of uprising against him. During the same sequence, he is confronted with the specter of slavery and angrily claims that the evils of the practice were merely Northern propaganda:
[The Northern capitalists] talk about economic advantage, but which of us really has it? The Southerner, who must first buy his slave and, in addition, must feed, clothe, and shelter him for the rest of his life? Or the Northerner, who pays his laborers, but so damn little that he keeps them in a perpetual state of need and starvation?
When further challenged, he asks his black server his opinion – if he’d rather worry about work or be cared for by his master. Not one to contradict his employer at dinner, the server says that he’d prefer slavery, which, from Ferguson’s self-centered perspective, proves his abhorrent point. This scene, as well as Ferguson’s inhuman treatment of his Mexican staff (they are basically slaves) and general demeanor seem to have influenced Quentin Tarantino when he wrote Django Unchained (2012). Shades of the character appear in Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (the concept of a racist white villain playing violent games with subjugated Mexican peasants also crops up in Django and Ferdinando Baldi’s Hate Thy Neighbor, 1968, both movies that also appear to have influenced Tarantino).
Ferguson’s relationship with women is enough to fill another five pages on the Freudian implications of his actions and words. This review is already longer than intended, so I’ll just leave the reader with the knowledge that he keeps his wife in a padded cell (like the ones you see in an insane asylum), clearly lusts after his male second in command, and, after abruptly deciding to shut down the whore house that operates within his empire, he states the following about the fairer sex:
Forget about women. They don’t let a man think and a man has to. He must be able to build, create. He can’t allow himself to be distracted by inferior beings. Yes, inferior beings, because they’re morons – animals – whose main purpose is to reproduce. That’s why I married Edith: to have an heir. But my wife couldn’t even fulfill that function.
Requiescant was released stateside twice by Wild East Productions, once alone and once on a double feature with Rafael Romero Marchent’s Dead Men Don’t Count (1968). Both of those, like most (all?) of Wild East’s releases, are out-of-print. There are also European DVDs, including one from German spaghetti specialists Koch Media. Arrow’s simultaneous US and UK Blu-ray marks the film’s first HD release. The original 35mm negative was scanned in 2K by L’Immagine Ritrovata in Italy, then digitally restored by Arrow. This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is up to the company’s high standards, even during those rare moments when grain levels kick up for a bit. The overall look is very film-like, which is a relief, given the heavy telecine look of other HD scans from Italian companies (note that a number of these have been traced back to LVR Video & Post). Details are tight, especially in the fine foreground textures and complex background patterns, which were a fuzzy mess on DVD versions. I had originally planned on doing a full comparison between the Arrow and Wild East releases, but the difference was big enough that I decided to supply a single image to illustrate my point. The grainiest bits are usually seen during dusty or smoky sequences; otherwise everything appears natural. Print damage is minimal, including only a couple of scratchy sequences and a spot or two of dust (there are a couple of seconds towards the end of the film, where Ferguson rides his horse into the church courtyard that is fuzzy enough to suspect it was taken from a different source). The colors are extremely vivid. The palette is eclectic contrasting natural vistas with vibrant costumes and set piece decorations. Everything pops nicely without bleeding and there are no notable compression issues. I’ll agree that the images on this page appear a bit DNR’d, but I honestly didn’t notice the issue while watching the film.
The original mono English and Italian soundtracks were also taken from the original materials and is presented here are uncompressed LPCM sound. As per my usual spiel – spaghetti westerns and most other Italian films from the era, Requiescant included, were shot without sound. The international casts often spoke their lines in their native tongues and every line of dialogue was recorded in post. So, with this in mind, there is no ‘correct’ dub. The choice between these tracks is largely preference. The Italian dub has a slight advantages in terms of ‘roundness’ and crispness of Riz Ortolani’s music. Otherwise, I think the English dub is the way to go. Some of the dub cast is miscast, but the bulk of the leading cast is clearly speaking English on set. This mitigates the lip-sync issue a bit. Sound effects match between the two tracks, but are less muffled in English, along with the vocal performances. This helps the boost the impact of the bigger sounds, like explosions and church bells tolling. Ortolani’s score is recognizably Ortolani-esque (sweeping strings, jazzy horns), but the second most in-demand spaghetti western composer also does quite a bit to ape Ennio Morricone, especially in terms of electric guitar.
Remembering Requiescant (13:40, HD) – An exclusive new interview with Colombian actor and star Lou Castel, who discusses (in French) his brief tenure in Italian westerns, including Requiescant, Damiano Damiani’s Zapata classic A Bullet for the General (1966), and Cesare Canevari’s ¡Mátalo! (1970).
Requiescant in Peace (27:40, SD) – This archive interview with Carlo Lizzani was recorded for Koch Media’s Blu-ray release. The director discusses the bulk of his career, but puts special emphasis on the making of The Hills Run Red and Requiescant.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.