Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ruggero Deodato's Uomini si nasce poliziotti si muore (Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man) (1976)

At a cafe, two extremely good-looking young gentlemen, Fred (Marc Porel) and Tony (Ray Lovelock) are having coffee. Both have sugar while one has decaf. Save the expected street noise, it is a quiet afternoon in Rome. The noise at the cafe's pinball machine attracts the attention of Fred and Tony who then become fixated with the two men surrounding it. Tony puts a silencer on a pistol and covers it with a newspaper. Fred follows suit. The pinball game comes to an end, and the men occupying its space enter the street. A van makes an abrupt stop outside. The van speeding is assumed from the stop. A misdemeanor at most. The two men at the cafe join another in the street. Fred and Tony pull their pistols and kill a man sitting alone in a car and a man standing reading a newspaper, respectively. The three men in the street don hoods and pull weapons. Without any hooded figure firing a shot, two of the group of hooded three are killed by Tony and Fred near the van. The lone survivor of the van group (but not for long) attempts on foot to escape in the crowded street. Tony cracks an adept shot to his head; and the final corpse hits the asphalt, and blood streams making a large pool. Cue soft acoustic ballad (sung by lead actor Ray Lovelock). Fred starts his motorcycle and Tony hops on the back. The two leave. Sound like murder?
Or does it matter? In Ruggero Deodato's Uomini si nasce poliziotti si muore (Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man) (1976) in the director's signature style, there is a lot of immoral fun to be had by its characters while their director seeks an amoral tone with his film. This is an extremely judgemental description of the film, and perhaps totally inaccurate. The inclusion of Lovelock's ballads within the film were, according to Deodato, to soften the tone of the film. The tone of the film is what? Violent? "It was very violent, perhaps too violent" says Lovelock in retrospect. Al Cliver was offered a role in the film by Deodato who had previously appeared in his Una ondata di piacere (Wave of Lust) (1975) but declined the role after reading Fernando di Leo's script, because it was "too bloody, too violent. Both the dialogue and the action." (Cliver would not turn down a subsequent Di Leo script with I padroni della città (1976).) In addition to Lovelock's ballads, Deodato added light-hearted scenes to soften the violence and to give the film a cop-film feel, like American ones such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Silvia Dionisio appears as a secretary in Live Like a Cop, and she has a lot of fun keeping Porel's Fred and Lovelock's Tony at bay: fun flirting in mock adversarial positions. Deodato even exercised restraint by toning down the violence in a particularly nasty scene where Bibi Pasquini (Renato Salvatori) has one of his henchmen remove the eye of a drug-addicted debtor. Deodato said he filmed the eye being pulled from the victim's socket and then in close-up, filmed the eyeball being squished under foot. Deodato admits the scene is still violent in its cut form.Save Deodato's one act of restraint in excising his cinematic violence, the violence in Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man remains, only to be softened by its director. Deodato admits: "It's a cop film that I made and got to make my own personal decisions." Like his screenwriter Fernando di Leo, Ruggero Deodato loves being playful (even dangerously so) and combined with his undeniable creative talent, it is this playful, irreverent attitude which makes his cinema so compelling. Uomini si nasce poliziotti si muore (Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man), Deodato's sole entry into the 1970s crime genre, is amongst one of his best works and one of the best films of that genre.The punchline to the first paragraph above is the absence of three important facts: Fred and Tony are police officers (of a "special squad" which officially doesn't officially exist); the men that the two kill are known criminals about to commit a heist; and the heist is never executed. One could argue that the five slain would-be thieves are guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery at the time of their death but then, one would have to answer the question: why does no police officer identify himself and arrest them? Or the moral perspective, did the crime of conspiracy merit an on-the-scene killing? Any viewer can play with those questions and come up with an answer. The facts that remain from within the film unequivocally lead to this answer: Fred and Tony are two criminals, with a propensity for violence, with badges.The opening ten minutes of Live Like a Cop are famous for its motorcycle chase (exciting and brilliantly filmed by Deodato) but the events that prompt the chase and the events which occur after the chase are the incendiary ones. A woman exits a bank with a satchel handcuffed to her wrist. Two thugs on a motorbike attempt to snatch the satchel and make a quick getaway. The woman victim is dragged, and her head lodges into a metal pole. Still not deterred, the thug gets off the bike and begins violently pulling her arm to free the satchel, eventually stomping her head. The thugs flee without the satchel. Fred and Tony witness the crime. Motorcycle chase ensues. At the conclusion of the chase, one criminal gets impaled in a crash and dies which prompts a smirk from Lovelock's Tony. Fred attends to the other thug who was thrown from the motorbike. Although severely injured, the criminal is still alive...but not for long, as Porel's Fred snaps his neck with his hands. The impetus crime and the chase result are mirror images: criminals committing crimes in different societal roles. The talent on both sides of the camera shines. Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock are damn sexy men giving fantastic performances in an arrogant yet coy style, infusing their characters' attitudes. Gorgeous Silvia Dionisio beams with her smiles in a small, scene-stealing performance. Her sister, Sofia, steals her only scene with Porel and Lovelock later in the film. The best two performances with characters with the richest complexity are Adolfo Celi, as Fred and Tony's boss, and Renato Salvatori, as Bibi Pasquini, the crime boss that Fred and Tony chase in Live Like a Cop's main narrative. Two veteran actors at the top of their game. Di Leo delivers another acid-tongued, smart-aleck script and Deodato executes. Like most of Deodato's cinema, Live Like a Cop is still powerful and incendiary today. Is being bad this much fun? I wouldn't know, but Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man certainly is. The film is available on DVD from Italian label, Raro, in a very nice non-anamorphic widescreen print with both English and Italian (with English subtitles) audio. Included amongst its supplements is an approximately forty-minute featurette with Deodato, Lovelock, Cliver, and others involved in the production (and where all quotes and objective facts within are taken).


Drew said...

Hans, to be honest I'm not the world's biggest Deodato fan, but this actually sounds really fantastic. This is quite an excellent write-up here, exhaustive and analytical with some intriguing thoughts. You've done your job and gotten me interested! Good stuff here.

Hans A. said...

Thanks, Drew. I appreciate the kind words. I hope when you get to see it you share your thoughts as I would be interested.