The Film: 4.5/5
As a child, he was the sole survivor of the brutal machine gun massacre of a large group of unsuspecting Mexican peasants at the hands of Confederates masquerading as peace-seeking Union troops lead by George Bellow Ferguson (Mark Damon). The child was taken in by a preacher and his family and raised as their own son. He grew up to be Requiescant (Lou Castel), a man of peace like his adopted father. When his stepsister Princy (Barbara Frey) runs away from the family with dreams of joining a traveling dance troupe, Requiescant sets out to bring her home. He soon finds Princy working as a prostitute at the behest of her vicious owner Dean Light (Ferruccio Viotti) in the town of San Antonio, which has fallen under the control of the debauched aristocrat Ferguson and his followers. Requiescant wants nothing more than to take Princy and leave the town without incident, but that is easier said than done. Luckily, our naïve young hero happens to be a crack shot with a pistol despite having no experience with one until shortly before Princy took off. As he travels the country, he encounters criminals and members of Ferguson’s gang that he handily dispatches with a little gunfire. Requiescant’s actions slowly begin to motivate the enslaved and exploited Mexican populace into taking up armed revolution against their oppressors, and with the guidance of the fiery priest Don Juan (Pier Paolo Pasolini), the man who once wanted to walk the path of least resistance will find that a much different destiny lies in store for him…. one that comes in the form of a bandolier strapped across his chest.
Spaghetti westerns didn’t just play rough with their violent and sexual content and amoral anti-heroes. They were often used as cultural Trojan horses to smuggle overtly political themes into the cinemas and thrust them directly at their audiences. The subtext made these films richer viewing experiences, none more so in the case of Requiescant (the Latin expression for “rest in peace”), the product of director Carlo Lizzani (a veteran of the Italian film industry since the late 1940’s) and no less than eleven credited and uncredited writers. Lizzani started out as an actor and screenwriter and was responsible for scripting some of the finest films of Italy’s Neorealist period, including Bitter Rice and Under the Olive Tree for director Giuseppe De Santis; the dedication he brought to crafting narratives about the struggles of working folks against the forces of oppression can be found bleeding into Requiescant’s tale of a youthful man of God who comes into conflict with depraved capitalist scum enjoying lavish lifestyles funded with the blood and labor of his people. The film is brutal (though its violence is rather bloodless – when someone gets shot, they spin around and drop to the dirt) and dark, but Lizzani and his scribes are so committed to its socio-political ideology that they never permit the story to get bogged down in tired western tropes of revenge and avarice.
The titular hero, played brilliantly by Lou Castel, is not a battle-hardened badass gunfighter carved out of leather and soaked in whiskey, but an idealistic youth who looks like he barely just hit puberty and only has faded memories of how ugly and horrifying the world can actually be. The concept of Requiescant realizing his potential with a gun mere moments after picking up one for the first time might seem somewhat contrived, but it works to set up our main character as a man who will be forced to solve his problems with violence no matter how hard he tries to turn the other cheek. He has to face enemies who would not show him any mercy, but even as he must make use of his particular skill set to end the tyrannical reign of the bitter, slavery-supporting Confederate lunatic Ferguson, Requiescant never finds himself becoming a violent brute like his uncompromising adversary.
Mark Damon, himself once the boyish gentleman hero of Roger Corman’s Fall of the House of Usher and Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, really sinks his teeth into the role of Ferguson and extracts a performance powered by pure demonic intensity. He makes Ferguson a figure of unabashed hatred and greed who hides his true nature behind a veil of dashing charisma, but Damon has a blast shedding that skin and letting loose the monster he really is during a pivotal scene where he challenges Requiescant to a “drink & shoot” contest. Ferguson expects to best the younger man in a game his ego has convinced him that he is best at, but the humiliation he suffers compels him to unleash his fury on the poor peasant woman he keeps as his property and locks in a padded cell when she becomes disobedient. It’s one of the most powerful and unnerving scenes in the entire film and a standout set-piece in the annals of the Italian western.
German actress Barbara Frey supplies the film with beauty and heart and though she and Castel have but a few scenes together, they both have no trouble selling their on-screen relationship as adopted siblings with conviction and honesty. Ferruccio Viotti (Day of Anger) and Franco Citti (best known as Michael Corelone’s Sicilian bodyguard Calo in The Godfather) are convincingly loathsome and nasty as Ferguson’s chief hired goons. In one of his rare acting terms, the celebrated filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Gospel According to St. Matthew) impresses greatly in his crucial supporting role as the revolutionary priest Father Don Juan. Much like the young Requiescant soon comes to discover, Father Juan realized long ago that the path of peace often has to be cleared with violence. There will always be powerful people working to enslave the downtrodden who would rather set every olive branch on fire than have lives any less luxurious than they currently enjoy. Pasolini’s great stone face conceals emotions that his eyes and voice cannot contain, and Lizzani gives his fellow director meaty monologues to chew on that lay out the film’s philosophy in concise detail without sounding like self-righteous sermonizing.
The cinematography from Sandro Mancori, who also shot the Sabata films starring Lee Van Cleef, is a genuine stunner and brings out the beauty and oppression of the European locations standing in for the American Southwest in intimidating widescreen glory. Lizzani manages to keep up a strong and lively pace in his 108-minute feature with the assistance of experienced editor Franco Fraticelli (Suspiria, Treasure of the Four Crowns), and the art direction by Enzo Bugarelli (Django Kill…. If You Live, Shoot!) and costume design by Lina Nerli Taviani (The Grand Duel) help keep the look of Requiescant true to the spirit of the finest big screen westerns. Everything comes wrapped up in a haunting original music score composed by the great Riz Ortolani that provides memorable themes and grand accompaniment to the fast-paced action sequences and tender dramatic moments.
Arrow has treated Requiescant (released in the U.S. as Kill and Pray) to a full-fledged 2K restoration using the original 35mm camera negative as a source element. According to the insert booklet included with this release, the negative was scanned at Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna and underwent grading at Deluxe Restoration in London. Digital restoration tools were used to remove thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and light scratches, and image stability was improved. A few minor traces of print damage remain due to the condition of the negative, but whatever flaws were unable to be removed must have been minimal since I couldn’t spot a single one. The restoration team has done an outstanding job on Requiescant since they have made a 48-year-old film look like it could have been made yesterday. Framed in the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, this transfer is rich with gorgeous colors, crisp scenery, and an improved picture vitality that is always alive with clarity and depth. The amount of grain has been reduced to an acceptable minimum and close-up shots boast pleasing and authentic flesh tones and an attention to the smallest detail.
The English and Italian PCM 1.0 mono audio tracks were transferred from the original optical sound negatives at Immagine and restored and conformed by Deluxe. As specified in the liner notes, the film’s sound will at times appear to be out of sync with the picture due to the fact that the audio was created entirely during the post-production phase. The Italian audio option is the best way to go as it offers a cleaner and more vibrant sound mix free of distortion and the occasional crackle or pop will not act as a distraction. If you choose to go with the English dubbing track, you shouldn’t be surprised that has its share of muffled sounds and dialogue. Newly-translated English subtitles have also been included.
Given Requiescant’s status as a relative obscurity of the spaghetti western genre, it’s hardly a shocker that Arrow’s Blu-ray isn’t overflowing with comprehensive supplements. But they have given us a few noteworthy interviews, one of which was recorded exclusively for this release. That would be “Remembering Requiescant” (14 minutes), a retrospective chat with star Castel where the actor discusses his career leading up to the film in brief and then gets into his working relationship with the director and cast. Speaking of the director, Lizzani is the focus of “Requiescant in Pace” (28 minutes), a feature held over from Koch Media’s 2012 German DVD that finds the filmmaker offering up a detailed career retrospective that also includes fond recollections of the making of Requiescant, directing the legendary Pasolini, and more.
Finally, we have the original theatrical trailer (3 minutes). Arrow has also included a reversible cover art sleeve with new artwork by Gilles Vranckx and the original poster art on opposite sides and a collectible booklet featuring a new essay about the film written by film critic and academic Pasquale Iannone, color stills, and extensive notes about the restoration. A Region DVD copy containing a standard-definition transfer of the film and the accompanying extra features has also been provided.
Requiescant is one of the best Italian westerns, and as it is not burdened by having to meet the expectations the genre has long been saddled with satisfying, director Carlo Lizzani is able to tell a simple yet complex story of a reluctant hero coming to understand that he is destined for a greater purpose than he was born to suspect. Arrow Video’s 2K restoration of this little-seen minor masterpiece of world cinema is just as impressive and eye-catching as their recent release of Day of Anger. With the inclusion of some informative interviews with Lizzani and his star Lou Castel that shed much light on the film’s making, this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack comes highly recommended.