Saturday, May 5, 2012

MM Movie Review: Tempo di uccidere

“Time to Kill” or “Tempo di uccidere” is a 1989 film starring Nicholas Cage about the troubles of an Italian soldier during the war in Abyssinia. The director was Giuliano Montaldo and it was an English-language production. The film begins near the end of the war in Abyssinia. First Lieutenant Enrico Silvestri (Nicholas Cage) has a toothache and leaves his camp early to go to the dentist. Unfortunately, his truck breaks down on the way and so he sets out on foot. When the rest of the convoy arrives he is nowhere to be found. Finally he arrives after being picked up by another truck, putting to rest the fears that he had been killed by rebels. His hand is hurt and he still has the toothache and goes to the dentist (the dentist appears to be played by the same actor who played Oliver Reed’s aide in “Lion of the Desert”). He starts asking about how long a person could live with a bullet in their guts. All very mysterious … and then we cut to a flashback. After the accident that caused the breakdown Lt. Silvestri sets out on foot for the construction site where the Italian military engineers are building a huge bridge. He arrives but finds no dentist, gets some painkillers and starts walking back to the highway. But, a “helpful” soldier offers him a shortcut through the wilderness and gives him some (rather vague) directions about a stream and a lake and a road to division HQ. The soldier cryptically wishes him “good luck” and smiles as he leaves.

While walking through the wilderness, he gives a cigarette to a lizard in what has to be the most bizarre and pointless scene of this bizarre and pointless movie. He stumbles later and appears to hurt his hand, then finds a waterfall where he also finds a nubile young Abyssinian girl wearing a white turban (and nothing else) taking a bath. He asks her for directions, starts to wash himself a bit, gives her some soap and keeps asking for directions to the lake. She doesn’t speak his language and so that goes nowhere and (there’s no polite way to put this) his lust overcomes him and he rapes the girl. Trying to make himself feel better afterwards, I suppose, he offers her some money (she refuses), some canned food (she refuses), a Bible (she accepts that), some breeches (she accepts) and she seemed very interested in his broken watch. He finds out her name is Marian but, we’re told, all the girls are named Marian in Ethiopia. When he starts to leave she runs after him and, well, invites him to have another roll in the grass (I guess the first time ended up impressing her). On the bright side, it got rid of his toothache, though he is a little worried that the girl might be thinking of herself as his wife and, oh yeah, he’s already married and has a wife back in Italy.

The girl then brings him some food but he seems to scare her by drawing a picture of a crocodile. She shows him where the lake is but it’s too late for him to move on and so the two love birds settle into a cave for the night. She bandages his hand and then, yep, they do it again and fall asleep. Silvestri wakes up, his toothache back, and takes another pain pill when he hears an animal outside. It’s a hyena, which he shoots but one of the bullets ricochets and hits his little Abyssinian sweetie pie in the stomach. She dies and he wraps her up, lays her in a crevice and covers it with rocks, removing all trace of their presence at the ‘scene of the crime’. He finds his way to the road and gets a ride to camp as he planned. The flashback finished for the moment, we go back to the camp where we are told that rebels overran the construction site of the bridge and they have to move out and start combing the area for them. Back at the bridge, Silvestri finds the soldier dead who gave him the shortcut directions. As they move through the area they cover the same ground Silvestri covered, finding dead Abyssinians along the way. They reach what he assumes is Marian’s village where the people are burying more dead.

Silvestri goes back to the cave where he and Marian spent their night together and he finds one shell casing he must have overlooked in his cleanup. They also find a young boy wearing a pair of Italian army breeches who gives Silvestri an odd look. Once back at camp, Silvestre is informed that he’s been granted leave and he’s so happy to be going back to see his wife because, as he exclaims, “Yes, I’m in love with my wife!” But then a second later he’s drunk and moping over how pretty Marian was. That doesn’t last long though and Silvestri and his friend Mario fall in with an eccentric, crooked, over-the-top major played by the incomparable Giancarlo Giannini. He takes them out carousing and they see some girls with leprosy. The major informs them that girls who wear white turbans have leprosy. This puts the thought in Silvestri’s head that he might have picked up leprosy from Marian. He starts to obsess over his wounded hand (which I swear he got before he even met Marian but the film is purposely vague on that point). He sees a doctor who tells him it takes years for leprosy to show itself but that there are cases in which it manifests in a few days. He tells the doctor he is doing research for a novel (he doesn’t want anyone to know he might have the disease).

The doctor acts as though he knows Silvestri is really talking about himself, telling him that the authorities must report all cases of leprosy and that the victims will spend the rest of their lives in a leper colony. He shoots at the doctor and runs off. He tries to get himself on a ship for home without going through the proper procedures but has no luck. He runs away again, sees a man (an Italian) being executed, he then tries to buy his way onto another ship as a stowaway but doesn’t have 30,000 lire to cover it. While moping around, becoming more and more parnoid and convinced he has leprosy, he runs into the eccentric major again who takes him to a brothel and then, on their way back to the major’s camp, they spot an army of rebels coming down from the mountains and stop to let them pass. He robs the major to get the money to buy himself on to the ship, having taken the bullets out of the major’s gun so he can’t stop him as he starts walking back to town. He doesn’t get back to town but wanders back to the same native village he thinks Marian was from. He makes nice with the locals, gives up on the ship home and decides he wants to stay with the natives because he’s ‘sick in his soul’.

The old man tells him that Marian was not sick and he tells the old man what happened to Marian. This time, he tells the whole story though. Marian didn’t just die of her wound. Knowing stomach wounds are the most slow and painful of all, he shot her himself to put her out of her misery. Silvestri then leads the old man to where he buried Marian. The old man wants to kill him, but doesn’t and the two make a little shrine for Marian (the old man’s daughter we are led to believe). He puts some native paste on Silvestri’s wound. He returns to the port as news arrives that Abyssinia is conquered and the war is over. He joins his friend Mario on the ship home, all smiles, telling him about what happened. Turns out, no one was even looking for him, he was in no trouble with the authorities and he never had leprosy. Mario took over the narrative and says that the major was killed by the rebels thanks to Silvestri taking his bullets but Mario never told anyone, including Silvestri, about it. He felt somewhat responsible for the whole thing since he had been unable to convince Silvestri to wait and tolerate his toothache a while until they could leave together in the convoy. The end.

This is not a well known movie and not a well reviewed one in the vast majority of cases. I just found it, again, bizarre and pointless. Some have argued that there is a deeper meaning and that it’s really some profound work but, seriously, you have to stretch things pretty far for that. Any deeper meaning you get out of this is one YOU came up with, not the filmmakers. I don’t think it’s terrible. There was some good acting on display and you do get the message that this is about a man wrestling with his conscience but it is a message hammered into you relentlessly. I did not find it deep or meaningful, just odd, disjointed and, by the end, I just see no real reason for it. This is not an easy movie to find if you want a copy but it’s sufficiently poorly rated to be featured on Hulu so those interested can watch it free on-line. I would not encourage anyone to but, if you have ‘time to kill’ I would not discourage anyone from watching it either.

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