The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1968)
Italian Title: Il Grande Silenzio
French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, as a favor for the film's producer who turns out to be a good friend, agrees to star in a Sergio Corbucci spaghetti western, with the request that he doesn't memorize any lines for the film. In keeping with the promise, Trintignant plays the film's tragic hero, Silenzio, a mute gunslinger whose vocal cords were removed as a child when he witnesses his parents' deaths by a group of bounty hunters. It becomes his life's mission to rid the Old West of these greedy bounty hunters.
The Great Silence starts with Silenzio riding through a backdrop of white snow while hidden bounty hunters are aiming to assassinate him. With his automatic pistol, he outspeeds his predators, killing each hunter except for one who opts to renege bounty hunting in exchange for his life. Silenzio instead shoots both his hands to assure the promise; in a fit of desperation, the sole survivor tries to shoot the hero with his bloody hands, but is shot by a group of bandits who are holing themselves in the snowy wildnerness of Utah. These bandits are eagerly awaiting the promised amnesty by the new governor, before returning to the town of Snow Hill to lead normal lives. Forced to steal by the involuntary exile, each bandit's head costs a few hundred of dollars; the entire horde is a treasure trove for these greedy bounty hunters traveling the wilderness like ravenous wolves. Most ravenous of them is Tigrero (Klaus Kinski) --- treacherous, morbid, and extremely greedy. He puts to death four bandits including the husband of Pauline (Vonetta McGee), a big-eyed dark beauty who recruits Silenzio to avenge the death of her husband.
The souls of the characters of this western is fueled by greed, vengeance and lust, which makes the romantic heart of the film irresistable and touching. The hearts of Silenzio and Pauline frozen by hate and revenge suddenly melt in a surprising moment, gradually lensed with ponderous close-ups and alluring hues of flesh and yellow by cinematographer Silvano Ippoliti, and backgrounded with a seductive melody composed by Ennio Morricone. During that moment, it felt that the characters transformed from filmic legends, into real characters who, through a sudden gush of emotions, develop humanity and imperfection, getting them closer to mortality. If I may add, I also want to believe that it is probably Silenzio's first real sexual and romantic encounter (his lack of communicative prowess lessens his relational marketability, and his vengeance-consumed soul keeps his mind centered into completing his life's mission), thus suddenly making him very vulnerable.
The film ends in a brutal and cynical note. Its an ending that unshrouds Hollywood-started mythos of the invincibility of the gunslinging hero and the unconquerability of good against patent evil. The way Corbucci depicts the villains (especially Kinski whose mere colden blue-eyed gaze sends shivers down my spine) and the overly-oppressed victims (with the impending idea that a dawn of forgiveness through the governmental amnesty is arriving soon) makes the conclusion even more painful and heartbreaking.
In a way, the cynicism is grounded in visual, thematic and emotional consistency: the neverending snow that hides rifles and corpses, the perpetual cycle of vengeance and violence, the ineptitude and inutile of the law and law enforcers. Everybody is at fault even the film's hero and his love interest, even the dozens of part-time bandits awaiting freedom from their past crimes. When the whole world has been corrupted by by-the-book readings of state-legislated penal laws, and peddling of human lives, it is nature's law that is followed. Silenzio became weak when he fell in love with Paulin, and according to nature, only the strong shall inherit the world.