Grazie Zia

Written by Joe D on September 16th, 2008

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A great but flawed film, the likes of which we may never see again. Grazie Zia ( Thank You Auntie, USA) has many incredible elements, the acting, especially by the leads- Lou Castel as Alvise
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Lou Castel as Alvise gets a check-up

and Lisa Gastoni as Aunt Lea.
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Beautiful Lisa Gastoni, Fantasy Aunt!

The incredible music by maestros Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai.
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The Vietnam War as viewed by an Italian proto-adolescent. Beautiful B&W cinematography by Aldo Scavarda and excellent direction by Salvatore Samperi. The story centers on Alvise, a young man with a mysterious medical condition that’s paralyzed his legs, forcing him to ride around in a motorized wheelchair. Alvise travels to his Aunt Lea’s country villa for a rest. He reads comic books obsessively especially Diabolik.
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He is also obsessed with the Vietnam War, going on at the time this film was made. Alvise’s Aunt Lea obviously cares a great deal for her nephew even though her millionaire husband dislikes him quite a bit and with good reason, Alvise is just shy of being a sociopath. First we learn that he can walk. His mysterious paralyses is fake.
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Treating his Legs with Magnetic Mud!

He then takes out a rifle with telescopic sight and aims at his Aunt and her husband.
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Later during a small party a sexy young blond flirts with Alvise, singing to him, dancing up to him, embracing him. He responds by biting her like a mad dog!
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Party Italian Style!

But for me the most amazing scene is where Alvise plays his war games. A radio report drones on reciting casualty figures in the Vietnam conflict. Alvise dutifully records these updates on a bulletin board that lists living and dead Viet Cong, Americans, lost arms, legs etc.
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He has created a tabletop reproduction of a battle field, complete with American army base and vietnamese village.
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He starts the conflagration, burning the village in a napalm storm.
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He salutes a fallen American toy soldier, yelling at a Viet Cong that ” He’ll never drink Coca-Cola again!” This strange tableaux, accompanied by an anti-war Italian pop song is very moving.
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Most of the Americans sent to Vietnam were barely out of their teens. They should have been reading comic books and chasing chicks rather than spraying napalm and Agent Orange, having their legs blown off and suffering acute psychological damage. The guy that re-stuccoed part of my house told me his story. He shipped over to Nam just out of high school. He thought it would be fun, adventure. As his plane was coming in for a landing at the American base he saw puffs of smoke down by the runway. The Viet Cong were mortaring the base. He thought ” Wait a minute, this doesn’t look good!” It went downhill from there, one trauma after another.
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Another guy I knew back east had been captured. He spent 3 years in a wooden cage displayed as a weak American. When he got back he could barely speak to anyone. It took about 2 months before he said hello to me. My Laotian friend told me that he was shocked to see the Americans were sending “kids” over to fight trained soldiers. He couldn’t figure it out. This movie makes this point in a powerful way.
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The story evolves and Alvise seduces his Aunt. Now this part of the film I didn’t enjoy as much. Simply because Alvise is such a jerk and his Aunt is a beautiful mature sexy woman. Charming, classy, first rate. I found it hard to believe that she would fall for this guy. But maybe she did out of love for him, not passion but the desire to let Alvise realize his fantasy with her. The film is in Italian with no subtitles so I may have missed some nuances.
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It’s still great and worth watching. As I said at the begining of this piece, we may never see films like this made again. Why? It’s a very personal film, dealing with anti-war sentiments, incest, a charming/repellant hero, not a marketable crowd pleaser and Thank the Gods Of Film for it’s existence! We need more filmmakers willing to take a chance, try something out of the ordinary, break free of the stupid conventions of storyteilng where everyone knows whats going to happen next.
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Take Me To A Screenwriting Class!

Stop going to these idiotic screenwriting seminars to learn cookie cutter film structure! Take a chance and make a bold visionary film or better still support these films by renting, buying, going to see them! The world needs artists more than ever to present other views than the media crap force fed to everyone. Get out there and make it happen!
p.s. the score for this film is pure genius. Morricone and his ex-partner Bruno Nicolai created a unique sound for this film. Those guys created so many different sonic palates, it’s incredible. Compare this score to Citta Violenta or Il Mercenario, they’re all very different. p.p.s I checked out Lou Castel on IMDB. This guy has had an incredible career! He’s in some of the greatest films of all time. Including some Fassbinder, Viscounti, Wenders,the excellent Irma Vep, etc. etc. and he’s still acting! Also Lisa Gastoni has had an illustrious career. She appeared in a film by the sublime Fernando Di Leo-(La Seduzione) and interestingly enough she appeared in a film called Amore amaro ( Bitter Love) with my pal Leonard Mann. When I interviewed Leonard he spoke fondly of this film but admitted he had never seen it! I found a copy on ebay and turned him on to it. He bought it( it was expensive) and now I need to borrow it so I can write about it. In Closing. Bravo! to Salvatore Samperi, Bravo Lou Castel! Brava Lisa Gastoni! Bravo Morricone, Niccolai! Bravo to all involved in making this film.
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Here’s the party scene via YouTube:

And here’s the title sequence so you can hear some of the score.

3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Oct
    12
    8:10
    PM
    FilmWalrus

    Sounds like one I’d be interested in! I’ve kept up a steady stream of Italian weirdness and I’m alway searching for exactly this type of thing.

    Also, I’m agreed with your sentiments about the imperative for making and seeking out great (or just personal) films. There are lots of amazing movies out there, but so few can be found by watching television trailers or cruising cinemas.

  2. Oct
    28
    1:29
    PM
    Kimberly

    I’ve wanted to see this for years so it’s great to see a post about it here!

    We need more filmmakers willing to take a chance, try something out of the ordinary, break free of the stupid conventions of storyteilng where everyone knows whats going to happen next.

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m so bored with modern filmmaking. I think one of the problems is that movies are now made by people who only reference other movies. Filmmakers don’t read or study art. They’re not political and they have no original ideas about anything. They want to make entertainment and they want to make money. Of course the studios are to blame as well but even so-called “indy” films follow conventions.

  3. Oct
    29
    9:52
    AM
    Joe D

    The cultural chauvinism of media being controlled by big corporations is stifling to originality, combined with the “dumbing down” syndrome the end result is our present state of cinema. Big Brother isn’t a government it’s a board of directors.

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