The Basilisks (1963)
This is the first film I’ve watched on the MUBI platform and I’m impressed. Lina Wertmüller’s debut, The Basilisks. It’s a restoration and it looks gorgeous. I watched it with the lights down low on a 5K screen and blimey it’s fantastic. Set in a small Italian village. A small sleepy place where everyone just gets by. It really is a window into another world, another time. Not just the everyday men in everyday suits or the dark glasses or any of the other cultural signifiers. It’s the notion of time that gets me. There’s tons of it. Time to sleep in the day, time to hang out on stone steps, time to daydream. Nothing much happens and our three young leads Antonio (Antonio Petruzzi), Francesco (Stefano Satta Flores) and Sergio (Sergio Ferranino) are looking for excitement. Hard to come by with no money in your pocket. It’s effortlessly stylish. Shot in monochrome every shot draws you in and the small weathered Italian streets are a compositional dream. Several shots take my breath away and I’m tempted to hit pause. The sound too, it’s simple as the visuals. No clutter of traffic in this world, every aural note has space. And there’s the Morricone score. Subtle but unmistakable. As the trio look for options, for love, I’m falling in love myself. Wanting to reach into the screen a walk the dusty rural streets with them. It’s light and funny, but there’s a strong patriarchy running through it. Expectations of the young men and of the young women to behave in a regimented decency. Do what your father demands, respect your mother, their choices not entirely their own and the class structure, even in a small village is held firm. The politics are antiquated. These things are a little jarring to modern eyes and none of the characters are in any way progressive. Facist sympathisers, called out when Antonio’s visiting aunt and her friend come with their socialist ideas and talk of jobs, freedom and women in Rome. They take Antonio back to Rome, leaving poor Francesco and Sergio stewing in the sticks. Trying to establish a cooperative to help their prospects. It’s a tough life, but captured beautifully with a disarming romanticism. In truth there’s no real arc to the story, more of a window into regular uneventful lives. People dreaming of something else, but in truth happy to be trapped where they are.