Film Essay #1- Dillinger is dead (1969) – Marco Ferreri

A Sarcastic Masterpiece

Dillinger è morto” is the 11Th movie from controversial Italian artist-filmmaker Marco Ferreri. Creating 33 movies in more than four decade of his cinematic life, Ferreri never received the same amount of praise and international attention like his compatriot fellow filmmakers like Antonioni, Fellini and Pasolini. His dark sarcasm over the social beliefs and values such as: sexuality, feminism, family and bourgeoisie, distinguishes his works and makes him an artist ahead of his time. “Dillinger is dead (1969)” is his reaction to the materialistic society of the late 60’s and a masterpiece from a director who identifies himself as an anarchist filmmaker.

”My way of making movies is anarchy.”

The story is about a “Gas Mask” designer, Glauco played by Michel Piccoli, famous French actor well known for his works with masters like Bonuel, Godard, Resnais and Hitchcock. He comes home after an usual day at work. The story simply cruises us over a restless, suffocating, boring night of Glauco, a journey filled with magical symbolism very special to Ferreri’s filmic language. A long night, where Glauco cooks for himself, watches TV and some home-made videos, seduces the maid and at the end kills his wife in her sleep. The film is almost without any dialogue except for the beginning at the gas mask company, where a colleague of Glauco reads out the effects of modernism on human beings. The suffocating materialism imprisons the modern individuals who are sinking in consumerism:” Isolation in a chamber where external communication is impossible…is very reminiscent of the living conditions of modern man”. While this text is being read for us, we realize that Glauco designs Gas mask! A gas mask, that practically prevents people from suffocating under unbearable modern materialistic air. Mask to Help people to live the “unlivable”. Glauco is (was) the savior. He soon declares that he does not want to design these masks any more.

Home sweet Home

He arrives home, where the 90% of the movie will take place afterwards. The house is well decorated. Mise-en-scène indicates the materialistic spirit of the house, low key lighting and dark colors on the walls implants the sense of imprisonment, a gas chamber with deadly atmosphere. Glauco will have an impotent conversation with his beautiful Barbie-like wife, who will stay in bed during the rest of the movie. The feminine characters of this movie are shallow and vain. A Beautiful wife, who will stay in bed the whole time. She is on pills, technically a Barbie-doll just there to play with. As it is portrayed later in a scene, where she is sleeping deep on pills and Glauco literally plays with her with his snake poppet. The other female character, portrayed by Gino Lavagetto, as the obnoxious maid is not a sophisticated image of femininity either. She seems to be doing anything but her job as the maid. She flirts stupidly on the phone and enjoys looking at herself in the mirror and is in love with pop stars.

Decorative and dark picture of femininity in this movie is a radical reaction of Ferreri to the feminized culture of the late 60’s. What is Ferreri trying to imply by picturing his female characters the way he does? I believe the message has no intention to preach anti-feminism in any form, on the other hand is trying to picture the materialistic usage of the feminine image in a modern era. The doors open for several interpretations on this matter, as Ferreri himself said: “I consider myself 50% misogynist and 50% feminist”!

Glauco soon starts cooking, bored and restless he decides to cook Gourmet. While cooking, he listens to the radio; we hear a selection of English and Italian pop music: “Here and there, I love freedom. No one will ever take it away from me!” Here we hear Ferreri’s sarcastic signature mocking radio and TV. Ferreri once said: “In TV everything’s nice, everything’s calm, I hope we could still be anarchic with cinema.”

Freudian Gun

While engaged in the process of making Gourmet, he comes across an old and rusty gun wrapped in a piece of newspaper,
 containing details on the death of John Dillinger, the famous American gangster and bank robber who was killed in 1934. Putting our Freudian glasses on, the gun symbolically represents masculine phallic of Glauco himself.  A Lost, dysfunctional, rusty and old phallic. That explains his impotent relationships with women. He barely talks to his wife, his sexual tendency towards her appears while she is sleeping, then he starts playing with her using his snake poppet, another replacement for his impotent penis. His relationship with the maid happens under no sexual context; they play (fool) around, eat watermelon together and coddle! But now Glauco finds the gun, his lost and impaired masculinity. Did this Gun belong to Dillinger? Maybe it belonged to cocky and arrogant Dillinger with his famous smile when he was captured by the police. Ferreri inserted some black and white footage of Dillinger and his death to stir up the history behind the Gun. Glauco, cleans, restores, reassembles and polishes the gun. The gun is “functional” again. In one of my favorite scenes, he even paints the gun in red with white dots all along! This is maybe the ultimate symbolic message: an alienated and externalized phallic in a feminized world, devoured by consumerism.


After eating his meal, he watches some home videos from vacations probably in Spain. He starts fooling around the pictures, mocking the family vacations, laughing at home videos. At some points in videos, the camera invades the privacy of people and we see someone saying: “Go away don’t film me!” which reminded me of today’s reality shows! These videos and pseudo happy memories mean nothing to him. He is imprisoned in his own house, where there is no communication with the outside world and the atmosphere is deadly. A true poisonous gas chamber, but he has already made his decision, he is not going to design anymore gas masks.

 Happy Ending

At the end, we see Glauco boarding on a mystery ship to Tahiti. He gets hired as kitchen’s chef, although he is inexperienced, hopefully he could manage a good Gourmet! Despite the depressed atmosphere of the film and the shocking murder, here on the ship, everything seems fantastic, naked sexy female captain and joyful and hesitant reaction of Glauco remind us of Hollywood happy endings: an out of the blue Parody on the American cinema.

At the end everything’s not gonna be all right!

A dark and sarcastic masterpiece!

May 2012, Hamed Karkan


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: