My review of Cemetery Without Crosses is over at Flickering Myth now. . .
Cemetery Without Crosses (Une corde, une Colt), 1969.
Directed by Robert Hossein.
Starring Robert Hossein, Michèle Mercier, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas, Serge Marquand, Pierre Hatet, Phillipe Baronnet, Pierre Collet, Michele Lemoine and Anne-Marie Balin.
This bleak homage to Sergio Leone and the cult of the spaghetti-western is a stylish and atmospheric take on the genre. Bringing a philosophical depth to proceedings, the French/Italian/Spanish production provides enough intriguing ambiguities for a worthy slice of realism. Essentially amoral, it sets out to present the universal truth that people of all kinds are capable of both good and bad.
The stirring central theme (with vocals by Scott Walker) is probably the most typically Western thing about the movie. With long takes of no dialogue, and a stripped down narrative and languid pace punctuated by extreme violence, the film holds up well to modern audiences used to existential trips through the desert.
Focusing on Maria’s (Michèle Mercier) quest for revenge on the family of ranchers that strung up her husband, the world presented is extremely dark indeed. She seeks out gun slinger and friend Manuel (Robert Hossein) to help her make the wrongdoers pay. The fact that the late husband stole from the Rogers family further complicates matters; in their minds they were simply administering traditional wild west justice. In any case, Manuel saves one of their family from being murdered in a bar, and joins up with them after they bribe him out of gaol.
The central celebratory dinner when Manuel has been officially hired by the Rogers gang as a new team leader is the stand out scene. The long take contains no dialogue and presents the banqueting table of Rogers family members staring at their recruit in a paranoid melting-pot of evil eyes and hard-edged glares. When the surprise of a jack in the mustard jar pops out, the nervous laughter contrasted with Manuel’s deadly set features set the tone for the rest of the story. From then on, you can see that his mind is set on complete destruction.
Manuel bides his time waiting for the right moment to strike. This strike, starts off by setting free the ranchers’s horses and culminates in the kidnap of their daughter and sister (Anne-Marie Balin). Manuel then goes well beyond anti-hero territory as he sits by while the hanged man’s two brothers administer their own form of barbaric revenge on her.
At the heart of Cemetery Without Crosses is a desire to evoke a pitch black response to life at the limits. There are no goodies or baddies in this, just mystery and the grim realisation that most character’s fates have probably already been mapped long ago. The philosophical nature of the work lends it an authoritative air, and offers a rewarding – if uncomfortable – watch.
The Blu-Ray includes: Remembering Sergio – exclusive new interview with star and director Robert Hossein
Archive French television news report on the film’s making, containing interviews with Hossein, and actors Michèle Mercier and Serge Marquand
Archive interview with Hossein
Original theatrical trailer