Director: Fernando Di Leo
Writer: Fernando Di Leo Cast: Gastone Moschin, Frank Wolff, Mario Adorf
Length: 102 min
Label: Arrow Films and Video
Release Date: June 15, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: LPCM 1.0 Italian: LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English/ English SDH
- Calibro 9 : 2004 making-of documentary featuring interviews with director Fernando Di Leo, stars Barbara Bouchet and Philippe Leroy, and others
- Fernando Di Leo – The Genesis of the Genre : documentary charting the filmmaking career of the Milano Calibro 9 director
- Scerbanenco Noir : a look at the work of Italian crime writer Georgio Scerbanenco, author of the original Milano Calibro 9 novel
- Gastone Moschin audio interview
- Italian Violenta : Matthew Holness, writer and star of cult series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, offers up an appreciation of Milano Calibro 9 and the Italian poliziotteschi sub-genre
- US and Italian theatrical trailers
While many have reduced it to a response to vigilante-style thrillers produced in America, such as Dirty Harry and Death Wish, the Eurocrime subgenre nonetheless thrived in Italy for years and produced nearly as many classics as the more renowned, critically acclaimed Spaghetti Western cycle. Exposure plays a big role in this. To put it in simple terms, popularity-wise, there was never an equivalent to a “Man With No Name” trilogy for the genre. While titles experienced a small amount of success as exports, they remained largely Italian products. For the myriad of books written on Spaghetti Westerns, there remain few that take Eurocrime seriously as a genre (Mike Malloy’s recent documentary, Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s being one of the first expansive analyses of it). It’s not for lack of output — there are hundreds, if not thousands, to discuss. However, the DVD/Blu-Ray boom have given these films a new chance to impact audiences worldwide, and with a few companies championing the genre, there has been a recent growth in interest. While there may not be anything in the genre that reached the success levels of the “Man With No Name” trilogy, that doesn’t mean that the genre doesn’t have its own Leone-esque master. Fernando Di Leo was to the Italian crime film was Leone was to the Western. He brought a level of cinematographic sophistication and gravitas, and (more-so than Leone) charged his films with a heavy dose of leftist political ideology. Following in the steps of Raro Video, Arrow Films and Video have unveiled a brand new Blu-Ray restoration of Di Leo’s seminal classic Milano Calibro 9 (aka Caliber 9); let’s see how it stacks up…
Fernando Di Leo’s Milano Calibro 9 has one of the most explosive (pun, unfortunately, intended) opens in cinematic history. Without granting viewers any sort of narrative grounding, Di Leo thrusts right into the scene of a highly complicated parcel exchange, which we later learn contains 300,000 American dollars. Sporadic editing compliments Di Leo’s roaming camera, as a barrage of exchanges is captured before our eyes. By the time the package finally makes it to its final destination, it is revealed that — somewhere along the line — the contents have been swindled. The two henchmen responsible for collecting the sum track down and punish those believed to be involved in the con (read: everyone involved in the transaction). When beatings and torture — which includes a decidingly gruesome ordeal with a straight razor — prove ineffective, the culprits are bonded together and given sentenced to a particularly gruesome death via dynamite. In its first ten minutes, Milano Calibro 9 offers more in terms of disordered yet memorable violence than most films. Beyond mere violence, Di Leo establishes an important aspect to understanding the film: that viewers cannot always believe what they see. Despite seemingly being privy to the entire interaction, Di Leo blocks us from the moment of the deception. With this in mind, the entire film becomes a lesson in piecing together the whole from what Di Leo wants us to see and what he is hiding from us; something that continues until the final moments.Following the fiery opening, the film cuts to three years later — although this fact could be missed as it is only mentioned in passing dialogue. Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) — former runner for gang boss The Americano (Lionel Stander) — has just served three out of his four-year sentence for robbery, let off for good behavior. Ugo is not a block from the prison’s exit before he encounters the Americano’s lead henchmen, Rocco (Mario Adorf) and Pasquale (Mario Novelli) — the two men for the film’s open. Despite not appearing in the opening scene, we learn that, other than Rocco and Pasquale, Ugo is the only living member of the botched exchange, which makes him the Americano’s prime suspect. The Americano forces Ugo back into a life a crime, an attempt to keep him close while they are able to suss him out. Stuck between the Americano, an equally suspecting police detective (played by genre favorite Frank Wolff) eager to put Ugo back behind bars, and the promise of a clean life, Ugo must play their games, buying himself enough time to prove his innocence. Normally, spoilers are avoided. In some cases, they are not necessary and, other times, they aren’t really deal breakers. However, for Milano Calibro 9, it is rather difficult to talk about Di Leo’s accomplishments without delving into the real crux of the story. I do feel that at least part of the enjoyment — although certainly not all — comes from a first time watch, so anyone who hasn’t seen the film is advised to skip to the next section.
Great, let’s continue. As mentioned with the intro of the film, Di Leo’s film works on a level of uncertainty. As the protagonist, viewers align with Ugo but, as the film will reveal, Ugo’s motives are not always noble. Perhaps it is not nobility that Di Leo is going for, but Chino’s death scene seems particularly telling. In working the system, Ugo deceives everyone: friend, foe, and even viewers. This works not only through Di Leo’s finely crafted script but also because of Moschin’s performance. Moschin has a sort of hulking bruteness to him. His stoic performance and large physical demeanor signifies a sort of overt machismo. Yet, at the same time, Moschin is able to garner sympathy, the look of an overgrown puppy. There is a kindness in his eyes. As the film will reveal, forced into alignment with him, the viewers appear to be the only people in Ugo’s life (beyond Chino) who believe his lies. It is to Moschin’s credit as a performer that this duality works because, in spite of constant accusations, Ugo’s insistence of his own innocence is remarkably convincing — which makes the ending that much more devastating.Despite being swindled by Ugo’s charm, the film never paints Ugo as a monster. No, he is only a cog in the systematic corruption of Itay in the 1970s and because of this can’t really be blamed. Ugo acts on survival. This is where Di Leo’s film really shines above its contemporaries because it is, at all times, working towards its leftist agenda — a proactive rather than reactive response to the hardships of the country at the time of production. The heart of Di Leo’s argument is delivered through Mercuri (Luigi Pistilli). A cypher for the film’s ideology, Mercuri comes against the “old cop” ways of the police Commissioner (Wolff). Mercuri doesn’t oppose fighting small crime but sees the country’s wealthy as the real criminals, whose actions create a sort of trickle down crime syndicate. Ultimately, Mercuri is silenced by relocation to south Italy, where his pesky idealism can’t conflict with the corporate-political corruption of the north. Di Leo’s film seems almost nostalgic for the old days of the mafia; the days where criminals followed a code, where even disorder had a semblance of order.
Technically speaking, Di Leo’s film is tight and nearly without flaw. He is a remarkably restrained Italian genre filmmaker, which means there aren’t a dozen snap zooms every for every five minutes of screen time. That doesn’t, however, mean that he is not a visual stylist, just that most of the film is comprised of a perfect balance of style and substance. Frequent Di Leo collaborator, Franco Villa’s cinematography is beautiful without really calling attention to itself. Scenes inside of the strip club, where a wash of red light floods the scene, exhibit the most stylized tendencies in the film. Concise is the best word to describe this film. Nothing is excessive, nothing out place. Di Leo crafts a taut, tense crime thriller; one of the finest examples of Eurocrime there is.
One of the reasons that excitement around this release was high — despite the presence of a pre-existing Region Free BD on the market —, was because of the announcement of a brand new 2K restoration. Taken from the original camera negative, Arrow’s release of Milano Calibro 9 is a stunning and crisp restoration. While Raro’s former release didn’t leave much room for complaints, Arrow’s boasts more than twice the bitrate of the former release. This allows for a higher quality encoded disc. A side-by-side comparison (below) really shows the difference. In addition to a higher bitrate, the color correction on Arrow’s release gives the film a bit cooler of a feel, resulting in more natural looking skin tones. This is a major improvement over the more jaundiced looking released by Raro. The increased detail gives sharpness to the print, allowing every morsel of sweat to pop off the screen. Finally, there are few signs of damage or age deterioration and no digital tinkering such as DNR. Its hard to imagine this film looking any better.
Similar to the video, Arrow have given us a fine audio representation of the original aural elements. Arrow offers both the original Italian and English tracks (like many Italian films, Milano dubbed their films for English speaking audiences). The LPCM 1.0 mixes are nearly without flaw, but the Italian fares better in terms of overall fidelity and depth, the English track sounding slightly thin (most likely evident in the original elements). The mix really compliments the spastic score, with tracks by both prog rock group Osanna and Argentinian-Italian composer Luis Enríquez Bacalov. There are no signs of damage present.
For those who don’t already own the Raro release, rest assured because Arrow have ported over all the features of that disc, making their release all the more enticing. Additional to the three features ported over, Arrow has commissioned a brand new interview with actor/comedian/writer Matthew Holness — famous for his Channel 4 spoof series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace — about the importance of the film and Di Leo’s career. Holness may not seem like the logical choice, but he offers a succinct and quite marvelous overview of the film and the genre it emerges from. Other than the Holness interview, Arrow include a brief but nice audio excerpt from a phone interview with Gastone Moschin about his role and relationship with Di Leo and his co-stars. It would have been really fantastic to see them commission a feature length commentary track for the film but the absence of such does not damper this fine release.
Of all the Eurocrime films and filmmakers, Di Leo’s work has always resonated the loudest (at least for this reviewer). While many of the Eurocrime films — reacting to the very real, turbulent and violent post ’68 era of Italy — have come off as quasi-fascist or at least anti-Leftist, Di Leo’s work was staunchly politically left. Matched with his strong visual flare, Di Leo’s work remains both fascinating as well as entertaining. With Milano Calibro 9, Di Leo preys on audience expectations. Viewers are always one step behind the characters, creating an exhilarating thrill ride — one that remains with repeat viewings. The release comes highly recommended all around, even for those that already own the prior Raro BD. While Raro’s release offers a great transfer, Arrow’s new 2k transfer offers a noticeable improvement, while porting over all the Raro features and adding a few to the mix. This gives Arrow the upper hand in every category, and makes this the, current, definitive release of the film. Arrow’s release of Milano Calibro 9 may fall off some people’s radars, but it is without a doubt one of the finest examples of restoration work this year.