St Michael Had a Rooster
Wellspring // Unrated // $19.98 // May 17, 2005
Review by Svet Atanasov | posted June 22, 2005
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The Film:
San Michele aveva un Gallo (St. Michael had a Rooster) tells the story of a passionate revolutionary attempting to ignite the masses in a sleepy Southern town in 19th century Italy. Giulio Manieri (Giulio Brogi), an aristocrat by birth, organizes a group of Italian radicals and stages an armed protest that ultimately will lead to a civil revolution. Unfortunately, while the villagers partially identify with Giulio and his comrades the staged protest is not something they are ready to embrace. As a result Giulio is arrested and sent to a nearby prison where he must spend ten years of solitary confinement as part of a life imprisonment sentence.

Attempting to survive the madness of his empty cell Giulio begins to fantasize about his political comrades, the revolution that never took place, and the passionate speeches he never had a chance to present. After a decade of imprisonment Giulio is finally being transferred to another, less stringent, prison where he will spend the rest of his life. Along the way, he is boarded on a boat nearby another group of political prisoners that are also being transferred to the same correctional facility. Giulio is deeply moved expecting to find understanding and perhaps a bit of appreciation for his revolutionary deeds. To his surprise what follows up is a bitter disappointment unveiling a lack of common ground between Giulio and the political prisoners.

San Michele aveva un Gallo (1972) is yet another project by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy. Told in a manner typical for the Taviani brothers- slow pacing, beautiful cinematography, and long reflective monologs, San Michele aveva un Gallo is very much a period piece. Similar to Il Sole anche di Notte (1990) and Le Affinita Elettive (1996) the Italian country side is used as a lush backstage for the film's engaging narrative.

Like many of Taviani's early films San Michele aveva un Gallo is also filled with raging emotions and subtle political overtones. Disillusionment and disappointment are again in the center of this film as it was the case with Il Sole anche di Notte. In fact, aside from the political context that is prevalent for San Michele aveva un Gallo I find a number of similarities between the two films. Starting with the obvious, they are both based on works by Leo Tolstoy; the two films in my opinion are heavily influenced by the Taviani's adoration of self-reflection.

The above mentioned films also have their stories built upon the main protagonists' journey to a place that is bound to deliver some resolution in their lives. While in Il Sole anche di Notte however Father Sergius was looking for inner piece away from aristocratic life in San Michele aveva un Gallo the main protagonist is forced into a solitary conferment against his will. Needless to say both films are very much a reflective study of the power of human will and the ability of men to withstand social adversity.

Paolo and Vittorio Taviani on the set of San Michele aveva un Gallo

San Michele aveva un Gallo is focused on the personal journey of a man slowly realizing that his political sacrifice has been a grand failure. There is also a rather subtle, more complicated message which the Taviani brothers have planted in this film. In my view the lack of common ground between Guilio and the new radicals appears to be a mirror reflection of the extremely polarized political spectrum in Italy during the late 70s and early 80s. For example for those viewers unfamiliar with the political conditions in Italy at the time when the film was made it is worth pointing out that social unrest was at its peak. Only two years after the creation of San Michele aveva un Gallo on March 16, 1978 the leader of the Christian Democrats and prime minister of Italy Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, a well-known terrorist formation. Naturally, political and social themes were prevalent for Italian directors at the time and the Taviani brothers were not an exception.

Co-produced by the Italian National TV network RAI and Ager Films San Michele aveva un Gallo is a worthy addition to the few Taviani films available in America. A poignant, self-reflective, and honest portrait of a failed idealist and his dated beliefs.

How Does the Disc Look?

Wellspring have presented the film in its intended aspect ratio of 1.33:1. To the best of my knowledge this partially financed and co-produced by RAI-Italia film was actually shot with the objective of being shown on TV and therefore the above mentioned aspect ratio is correct. With this said the print suffers from numerous scratches, visible damage, and lack of adequate contrast. Not a terrible transfer but in my opinion definitely not up to the standards we have come to expect from the DVD format. Disappointing.

How Does the Disc Sound? Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian soundtrack with optional yellow English subs. A rather unimpressive sound quality that neither compliments nor detracts from the film.

Extras: As it was the case with the other two Taviani films released by Wellspring there is nothing of interest in the extras department. The original Koch Lorber VHS trailer for the film, a trailer gallery for other Wellspring releases, Filmographies, and Weblinks is all that can be found on this disc.

Final Thoughts: As much as I was elated to see that Wellspring have decided to release three of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's films on the American market I now have to admit that I feel a bit disappointed. All three films are presented in average to sub-average quality and there are no credible extras to be found whatsoever. What a shame as Wellspring have improved significantly their quality with other more recent releases (see Strayed and Red Lights). RENT IT.

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