Saturday, February 11, 2006

On a train

There are different points of view about L'ultimo treno della notte (Night train murders, Aldo Lado - 1975). Some see it as just another "rape-and-revenge" flick, others say it's a copycat of Wes Craven's "Last house on the left" (1972).
In fact, it's a film which leverages a well-known scenaristic frame to convey a political statement about 1970s' Europe.

30 years after, and seen from other cultures, this political dimension could well be not so obvious. However it is this particular element which makes it such a unique film - and the terrible translation of the title into 'Night train murders' totally undermines the initial symbolical meaning of 'The last train of the night'.

It is a social journey between Germany and Italy, surrounded by the shadows of fascism - the German war veterans singing 3rd Reich songs in their cabin -, terrorism of the Red Brigades - the first train stops because of a bomb alert -, cynically questioning the dark side of the Church - the senile bishop glancing at a young priest, and later this obvious physical connexion made by Lado between the bishop seen in the first train and a very unappealing prostitute in the second one -, and above all denouncing the overwhelming power of the upper class, the "Bourgeoisie".

A metaphor where the woman with no name (Macha Méril) epitomises Bourgeoisie, with her veil as a sign of respectability as much as duplicity - and somehow of death.
She is the puppetmaster, cynically manipulating two hooligans - the embodiement of the lower class - to achieve her selfish and vicious goals (raping two young girls on the train). She will later get rid of the two guys by abandoning them to the revenge of the desperate father.
They will end up crawling on the ground like agonising animals.

A fatalistic tale about the ineluctable loss of innocence and its irreversibility.
Once the damage is done, there is no escape: one of the girls dies, the other one has no other choice but to commit suicide.
The implacable build up to a fatal end is very cleverly encapsulated in the idea of the train: a journey you can't deviate from, in a claustrophobic environment.
This is why the real score of this film is the noise of the train, which becomes overwhelming throughout the movie, and sometimes even covers scenes disconnected from the train itself.

In this context, it is interesting to point out that Morricone's score is very minimalist, yet very powerful. A few harmonica notes, highly reminiscent of "Once upon a time in the West", which reinforce the anguish, especially since they're played by one of the two villains.
Strangely enough, music from Morricone scores made for other films can also be heard, as if he was quoting himself: the opening pop track of "Four flies on grey velvet" when the two thugs reach the train station at the beginning of the film, and a reinterpretation of "L'Assoluto Naturale" theme at the end, heard through a radio in the parents' house.

At the end of this trip, there's no justice to be found, no hope to take away ; just the bitter taste of a crude representation of society's cruel games, somehow still relevant today.

L'Ultimo Treno della Notte was one of the two films shown at La Cinémathèque in Paris, during an evening dedicated to Aldo Lado on February the 3rd.

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