Friday, November 14, 2014
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: The 10th Victim
Before ‘The Hunger Games’, before ‘Battle Royale’, before ‘The Running Man’, there was ‘The 10th Victim’, perhaps the most day-glo, pop-art, comic-book example of the people-hunting-each-other-down-for-entertainment-value subgenre ever slapped in wash of grimy yellow across a few hundred feet of celluloid.
The plot barely needs dwelling on: in a slightly futuristic society (or at least what a slightly futuristic society looked in 1965), the Big Hunt is highly popular means of channelling violent tendencies and avoiding global conflict – contestants undergo ten rounds, five as hunter, five as victim. Those surviving all ten (by, respectively, killing their prey or murderously turning the tables on their hunter) are allowed to retire from the game with a healthy slab of prize money and the kind of celebrity status that the average Kardashian would bare their booty for. A computer (the 1965 type of computer, all big buttons and flashing lights) randomly pairs off hunters and victims. When it pits Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni) against Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), cat-and-mouse suspense crackles with sexual tension as director Elio Petri turns up and the heat and – … oh, who the hell am I kidding?
‘The 10th Victim’ fails on almost every level, mainly because Petri and his four co-writers (yes, that’s right, it took five people to bring a short story by Robert Sheckley to the screen) never seem to agree on whose perspective any given scene is anchored to, how the spatial relationships between character and geography work, or whether the film is sci-fi, thriller, romance, black comedy, satire or out-and-out surrealism. This is nowhere more evident than in the languid mid-film section which fixates on interior design to an almost unnatural degree (seriously, you’ve got Andress at her most voluptuous posed against a picture window on a sofa and the cinematographer is more interested in the positioning of seating and sculpture), and the equally unhurried final act which limps from one funny bit of buffoonery to the next.
Narratively, ‘The 10th Victim’ is a clusterfuck. In terms of performance – Andress is mere set-dressing; Mastronianni wanders around in a daze (a pretty fucking cool daze, natch: this is Mastroianni after all) – it’s a non-starter. As a thriller, it’s just too slow moving. As a sci-fi, it doesn’t really deal in interesting enough concepts or even try to make a coherent microcosm of its dystopia. As a romance, there’s no real chemisty, though damned if Andress doesn’t look more stunning here than even in ‘Dr No’. As a comedy, it’s often just plain embarrassing. As a satire, it fumbles around for its targets, not entirely sure what point it’s trying to make.
As surrealism? Yeah, the film has its moments.
But what really makes it unmissable, what makes it worth an hour and a half of your time and never mind the 400 words of carping that constitute the bulk of this review, is how lusciously, indulgently, dementedly beautiful the whole thing is. ‘The 10th Victim’ is one of those films that you can pause at random and find yourself gazing at an image you immediately want to frame and hang on your living room wall … assuming your living room also contains a bubble chair and a lava lamp.
‘The 10th Victim’ was lensed by Gianni Di Venanzo (previous credits: ‘La Notte’, ‘8½’, ‘Juliet of the Spirits’) and his genius is stamped on every frame.