Jail for Over-Earnest Anarchist in Bitter, Tolstoy-Derived Farce


A distinctive and restless force in European cinema for nearly five decades, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani achieved from their first films an eloquent stylistic bridge between Rossellinian stringency and Fellinian braggadocio. No European filmmaker has ever been as dedicated to their nation’s peasant legacy, and no one on the continent since the ’70s has made such potent and revealing use of native landscape. Their 1982 masterpiece The Night of the Shooting Stars is essential and well hailed, but their other films shouldn’t be sidelined, particularly the earlier, politically eloquent films like St. Michael Had a Rooster (1972). A bitter, Tolstoy-derived farce, the film centers on an over-earnest anarchist (an uproarious performance by Giulio Brogi) whose “armed expeditions” land him in prison, where he fantasizes about insurrection and ages outside the current of political viability. Also released is another Tolstoy adaptation, Il Sole Anche di Notte (Night Sun, 1990), which is relatively dull but image rich, and the Goethe-in-Tuscany transplantation Elective Affinities (1996), a costume drama made in classic, dubbed-international-cast fashion, in which Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Hugues Anglade act out the brothers’ only treatment of aristocratic dysfunctionalism. Owning their own shelf in the cultural library, the Tavianis’ movies have yet to get their due.