HALF A MAN (Vittorio De Seta, 1966)

Produced and directed by Vittorio De Seta from his original story, which he, Fabio Carpi and Vera Gherarducci turned into a script, Un uomo a metàA Man in Half, presumably as in self-divided, but sometimes translated as Almost a Man—revolves around Michele, a young (possibly escaped) mental patient, a writer, who, doubtless under the influence of Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957) and, even more so, Robbe-Grillet and Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961), journeys investigatively into his past, or what may be a representation of his past, in an attempt to reintegrate his personality. Is he responsible for his brother’s death? Pending resolution of this issue, he feels that he is dreaming rather than living, that he doesn’t really exist.

The story hardly exists, either, and what we can make of it is ambiguous rather than pinned down. Initially, this frustrates our attempt to navigate it, but by the time Michele returns to his childhood home we have relaxed our demands for narrative clarity and have warmed up to the spirit of the piece. The primary substance of De Seta’s increasingly intriguing film is its captivating style.

The black-and-white film is elemental, providing such settings as the forest, a winding road, and the light gray shore where it meets the white sea. Michele appears in every scene—indeed, every shot, except for a handful. These shots are nearly all static, a fact that makes each camera movement, as well as any movement within the frame impressive, if not momentous. (The dazzling cinematography is by Dario Di Palma, Carlo Di Palma’s nephew.) Shots are short, one after the other, creating a desire in us for fluidity in the film’s form that somehow suggests, however elusively, Michele’s quest for psychic stability. (Until we adjust, how irritating the staccato form of this film can be!—but the analytical nature of this form also reflects the protagonist’s quest.) Early on, the film can seem poetical and precious; but: hang in there! Things perk up.

Jacques Perrin (best actor, Venice) is brilliant as Michele. And, for those with a memory, Lea Padovani plays Michele’s mother, who loves only her other son. When she takes a switch to Michele, it is Perrin, not a child-actor, whom we see being punished: an odd moment. Odder still: De Seta’s apparent obsession throughout the first part of the film with Perrin’s nostrils.

 

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