“Le Grand Silence”, a western with macabre lyricism

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The critical status of the Italian Western has long since changed. What was once considered unworthy of interest is today the object of meticulous and sometimes passionate attention. Triumph of a form of pop cinephilia or justice finally restored? Both, no doubt. One of the flagship titles of the genre benefits from a Blu-ray edition, The Great Silence by Sergio Corbucci. Made in 1968, the film features a mute avenger facing off against a band of bounty hunters, tracking lousy horse thieves in the snowy mountains of Utah. The scenario is loosely inspired by the famous Johnson County War which will later be the subject of The Gate of Paradise by Michael Cimino.

A Franco-Italian co-production shot, in fact, in the Dolomites for the exteriors and in Roman studios for the rest, Sergio Corbucci’s film crushes conventions with the presence of incongruous and baroque details. The snow, heavy, deep, which numbs the steps of the horses and the actions of the men constitutes an impressive decoration, drowning the space under an immaculate glare. The music of Ennio Morricone, particularly inspired, transforms the film into an opera with macabre lyricism. It was Trintignant who, it seems, demanded that his character be mute, unconvinced by the dialogues they wanted him to speak.

Christ journey

Opposed to Tigrero, a brutal mercenary embodied – for once soberly – by Klaus Kinski, the mute hero joins certain archetypal characters of the Italian western, in particular the one played by Franco Nero in Django, already signed by Corbucci in 1966. Both indeed make a journey of Christ, experiencing in suffering the will both to survive and to save someone (a woman, a small community) within a corrupt world. and greedy. But Corbucci, under the influence of his interpreter, will turn what at first sight is a progressive western into a dark and nihilistic tragedy.

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Corbucci was forced by the producer to direct a different ending from the one he had shot. Fortunately, it was never used. The pessimism of the film will undoubtedly explain its relative commercial failure. It has become today, precisely because of its darkness and the multitude of bizarre motifs it contains, a sort of paragon of the singularity of an exogenous genre, of this fantasized vision of history in general and of the cinema in particular that constituted, for better or for worse, the Italian western. The supplements contained in the sumptuous Blu-ray published by StudioCanal, in the excellent collection directed by Jean-Baptiste Thoret, provide a lot of substantial information on the genesis and the destiny of the film.

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