Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. Italy/France, 1969. Produzioni Europee Associate, Les Productions Artistes Associés. Story and Screenplay by Franco Solinas, Giorgio Arlorio, based on novels by Norman Gant. Cinematography by Marcello Gatti, Giuseppe Ruzzolini. Produced by Alberto Grimaldi. Music by Ennio Morricone. Production Design by Sergio Canevari. Costume Design by Marilù Carteny. Film Editing by Mario Morra. Toronto International Film Festival 1977.
Marlon Brando gives one of the finest, subtlest performances of his career as a British spy sent to nineteenth century Quemada, an island in the Caribbean under Portuguese rule (in reality under Spanish rule, but the producers were nervous about alienating the Spanish market). Upon arriving on its shores, Brando picks a spirited and intelligent slave out of the masses (Evaristo Márquez) and encourages him to lead a revolution on the island, turning over the colonial government and ending the oppression of citizens. Once the deed is accomplished, a politician who can be controlled by the British is appointed leader in Márquez’s place, and Brando leaves for ten years to pursue his adventures elsewhere until he is called back to undo the gains of the revolution and bring conservative order back to the island. Gillo Pontecorvo’s follow-up to Battle of Algiers is the opposite of that film, here focusing more on lengthy speeches around tables and bursting with beautiful images and giant set pieces, but the passionate rage that made his earlier work so powerful is still here. It’s rare to see the great Brando so comfortably in line with the energy of a film, he’s usually memorable for going against the grain, his dialogue is delivered sharply and with magnificent effect, while Márquez, who had never appeared in a film before (and, apparently, had never seen one before), more than holds his own in the legendary star’s presence.