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Death Laid an Egg

a/k/a La Morte ha fatto l'uovo

a/k/a A Curious Way to Love

a/k/a Plucked

     "How absurd ..."

-- Marco     

     "... No it isn't."

-- Anna     




Gonzoid Cinema




It's like the director's trying to tell me something but I can't quite put my finger on it.


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Sights &
Death Laid
an Egg
  Giulio Questi
  Giulio Questi
  Frank Arcalli
  Franco Marras

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The Films of
Giulio Questi.

Django Kill! ... If You Live, Shoot

Death Laid an Egg

Clues to
Another Round of
GIALL-O Shots.

Blood and Black Lace

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Strip Nude for Your Killer

Your Vice is a

Locked Room and
Only I Have the Key

The Killer Must Kill Again

Death Laid an Egg

Naked You Die

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh

We open with the recycled film footage from some junior high school biology class on the gestation cycle of the Gallus domesticus -- better known to you and me as a domesticated chicken. And as the miracle of poultry perpetuity percolates inside the egg for our eyes, our ears are assaulted by Bruno Maderna's score, where he also appears to be involved with his own scientific experiment: assaulting every instrument in his orchestra with a sledgehammer, and then throwing it against the nearest wall to see what sticks and what doesn't.

Then, after several more instruments meet their untimely demise, senses sufficiently addled and rattled, the audience is moved to a high class hotel and a montage tour through several rooms -- and apparently, the editor has A.D.D. and was armed with his own sledgehammer, or in this case, more probably, a meat-cleaver. Crashing and zooming from room to room, we see more than we probably wanted to see of several occupants until we settle on one guest in particular: a man, who is in the process of pulling on some tell-tale black leather gloves, going through a briefcase filled with an assortment of sharpened cutlery before using one of them to murder the prostitute he was shacking up with. Unbeknownst to the killer, however, someone saw him do the deed, spying on them through the balcony window. This witness then covertly watches as the killer cleans up and checks out of the hotel, and then hops into the nearest phone booth. But it isn't the police whom he dials up. Nope ... That would be too easy -- and make for a really short film. E'yup, we have a ways to go yet and this is just one of the many sinister plot twists and turns that the viewer will have to unscramble over the next ninety or so minutes in Giulio Questi's oddball entry into the world of Italian whodunits, Death Laid an Egg.

Honestly, despite it's pedigree, subject matter and country of origin, I'd hesitate to call Death Laid an Egg an authentic giallo -- a term derived from the book covers of some lurid pulp novels and then co-opted to describe a certain breed of Continental cinematic thriller. Like Antonioni's Blow Up, both films contain some of the genre's trappings, but in truth, they proved more influential on the genre than the genre had in inspiring them. 

Defining what makes a gialli a gialli as opposed to a more conventional thriller/murder mystery is like trying to explain how a square can be a rectangle while said rectangle can't a square. The basic elements are present in both: a murder or string of murders; a murderer; a protagonist caught up in the investigation to catch said murderer; a few clues, a few suspects, and maybe a late twist or two to add some punch before wrapping it all up for the closing credits ... Where the gialli starts to differentiate itself from this formula is that it seems to be more interested in the howtheydunit as opposed to whodunit -- and the more baroquely theydunit the better -- and whytheydunit is basically irrelevant. The plots in these things are absolutely Rube Goldbergian in structure, starting with the protagonist, along with the audience, witnessing something -- usually a murder -- that sets off an unstoppable chain-reaction of other nefarious events/murders, usually made worse by the protagonists efforts to stop them. False starts, false leads and a healthy dose of red herring doesn't help make things any easier to unravel and decipher what's really going on. Nothing appears to be what it seems on the surface. Nothing is concrete, and confusion the norm. And while the audience, through the protagonist, is focusing on one thing, nine times out of ten our eyes and attention should be focused somewhere else. For once the dominos start falling in these twisted menageries, it's hard to keep up with each separate line of falling blocks ... Some stall out, others reach a dead end, and some make pretty designs and a lot of noise but in the end prove pointless and irrelevant to the bigger picture. Which is usually why, when the climax is reached and the whys and whyfores come out, a viewer's frustration factor might be needling into the red a bit. And that's completely understandable when the big pay off craps out, but sometimes ... sometimes, the view along the way is still worth the trip.

In Death Laid an Egg, using the gialli as a template, Questi presents a spectacular panoramic vista for us to view. Setting us up comfortably with the murder at the hotel, the director, just like his composer, editor and cinematographer, then brings down his own sledgehammer, reducing the film to a jumble of puzzle pieces, and then proceeds to throw everything out the window, convention wise, with much ferocity and flair, shattering the audiences expectations and leaving them to sort through the wreckage to try, and ultimately -- hopefully?, put things back together and solve just what the heck goes on here.

The man who murdered the prostitute is Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Obviously, Marco is not a happy man and the main source of his rancor is his wife, Anna (Gina Lollobrigida), who controls nearly every aspect of his life. Married to her money, Marco is basically just another cog in the wheel of Anna's highly profitable and fully automated chicken hatchery and processing plant. Tired of his listless life as a limp, rubber-stamp executive, Marco's been sleeping around with Anna's waifish cousin and personal assistant, Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin), and desperately wants to dump his wife and run away with her. Gabrielle, in turn, teases him along but always refuses his insistent offer, seeing little prospect in him without Anna's money. Besides, Gabrielle has a few ideas of her own -- he typed ominously.

So, his life sucks, his assertive wife, though not the shrew some reviewers would have you believe, dominates him because he's almost pathologically passive, and his mistress won't take him seriously; then is it any wonder why the only time Marco feels in control is in room 724 of the hotel, where he does his dastardly deeds? To make matters worse, Marco is almost certain that Gabrielle is screwing around on him with someone else -- most probably his new hair-brained assistant, Mondaini (Jean Sobieski), but he can't rule out the possibility that Anna and Gabrielle might be *ahem* up to something biblical, too. Mondaini may also be sleeping with Anna -- and did I mention he was the one spying on Marco's murderous malfeasance at the hotel? Blackmail appears to be his game, but we don't know what he wants in payment yet, or who it was he called on the phone. Meanwhile, through an anonymous tip, Anna has found out about Marco's trysts at the hotel. But unaware of how those trysts ultimately end, Anna, with Gabrielle's help, conspires to win her emotionally distant husband's affection back. And as his world unravels around him, Marco heads back to the hotel for another round of carve a second smile into a prostitute. And though he amps things up a bit, terrorizing and torturing her first, in the end, it seems to lack the same old punch, which is why, then and there, Marco decides to kill his wife, take her money, and runaway with Gabrielle.

All that clear to everybody? No? Okay, basically we're watching one giant clandestine game of chess, with each character being a pawn of someone else's strategy to try and knock the other off the board -- some more permanently than others.

As these pieces move and shift into place, nudged on by others, things start to clear up and solidify a bit as Marco starts to work on establishing himself an alibi by getting his wife a plane ticket out of town for a conference; a ticket she won't be using after he dispatches her. Unable to do the deed directly, Marco sabotages the guard rail overlooking the giant feed-processor at the plant -- basically a giant grinder and rotating millstone that will reduce anything, like, say, a body, into tiny little pieces, thus removing all the evidence by turning it into chicken feed. Now all he has to do is herd Anna up onto the catwalk once all the bolts have been removed. But as he finishes up, he hears someone lurking nearby. Thinking it's his wife, Marco retreats to the control room and waits for the shadowy figure to move into place. When it does, he throws the switch, starting the machines. When Marco hears a woman scream, he flees the premises, thinking the deed done, but it wasn't Anna -- it was Gabrielle, and the only reason she screamed was because the loud noises startled her. In other words, his plan failed.

But remember, Gabrielle was also aware of Anna's plan to get Marco back. And if it's a dolled up slut that turns her husband on, then Anna will give him what he wants by slathering on some make-up and donning some lingerie, a push-up bra and a skimpy outfit. So won't that philandering deadbeat be surprised when he shows up at the hotel and finds her instead of one of his whores culled from the hotel lounge. Well, some surprises are definitely in order, for everyone, as we move on to the final, fatal gambit.

Thinking his wife is dead, either to bolster his alibi or a need to be in the only place he feels safe, Marco heads back to the hotel through the rear entrance. Unlocking the door to his usual suite, just imagine how surprised and startled you'd be if you found Anna there, sprawled out on the floor, dead. Well he did, and she is -- most definitely. After taking a few moments to process this development, Marco snaps out of his stupor, and as he scrambles to clean up the mess, we switch down to the hotel lobby bathroom, where Mondaini tends to some deep scratches on his face. Then the police arrive, having received an anonymous tip about a girl murdered in room 724 ... As they question the clerk, several call girls lounging nearby laugh (-- a few of them looking awfully familiar), saying a lot of girls have died in that room -- some of them more than once! Seven floors up, as he furiously scrubs at the blood, Marco flashes back to those "murders" and we see it was all an elaborate and morbid role-playing game, where he only pretended to kill his wife on a weekly basis.

Sure enough, by the time the police investigate his room, Marco has already snuck out the back with Anna's body. And though they find no evidence, and the call girls insist that sweet little Marco could never hurt a fly, the police intend to press on and get to the bottom of this on "public morality" grounds. 

Meanwhile, back at the chicken ranch, in the main house, the grand conspiracy between Mondaini and Gabrielle is cemented: the whole thing was to set-up Marco for Anna's murder. Thinking Marco was an actual maniac, they were the ones who tipped off Anna to his adultery, and it was Gabrielle who then pushed her into getting him back by posing as a prostitute. Of course, Mondaini killed Anna, and then tipped off the police. Now, with Anna dead and Marco inevitably incarcerated, as the only living relative, Gabrielle will inherit everything and the two will live happily ever if they keep playing it cool ... And with what Gabrielle saw earlier in the plant with the feed processor, Mondaini sniffs out that Marco was probably going to kill Anna on his own, anyway, and kicks himself for not letting that scenario play itself out. Still, their plan seems to have gone off without a hitch, and Marco arriving when he did at the hotel was just a piece of pure luck in their favor. But just as the couple starts to spend all that ill-gotten loot in their heads, they hear the machinery start up at the plant and head over to investigate.

Turns out it's Marco, turning the feed-processor on. His intentions are clear: he still plans on disposing Anna's body through the grinder. But as he unwraps the body, he spies Mondaini's charm bracelet clutched in her hand. And as it all clicks together and the quarter finally drops, Marco is so flummoxed by this revelation and Gabrielle's betrayal that he stumbles back against the railing, the railing he'd sabotaged earlier, and promptly falls to his death. And after the grinder churns the body into mulch, Mondaini and Gabrielle arrive and find Anna's body just as the police show up looking for Marco. Caught red-handed, both conspirators deny any involvement with Anna's body and cast the blame on the missing Marco. Though the scratches on Mondaini's face are going to be hard to explain away, they continue to deny everything as the police escort them away -- but you get a sense it won't be very long until these two start pointing a finger at each other, because we know that Marco will never be found alive: he's currently being eaten by the thousands of caged chickens nearby. And as they contentedly cluck away, we close on the chief inspector sucking on a pilfered egg.


The End

Like a lot of the experimental "new wave" filmmakers/auteurs of the 1960's, Giulio Questi started out as a film critic before switching sides and putting his avant-garde theories on cinema to the test -- first as a screenwriter, and then as a director. And if I can sum up his personal style in one word that word would probably be exhausting. Now I know that's probably putting a pretty negative connotation in your head, but that's not necessarily the case here. The man had something to say on the human condition and a valid point to make, but he liked to hide that point with a whole lot of noise: jarring cuts, ear-splitting soundtracks, schizoid cinematography, and a metric ton of surreal eye-candy in his set-ups and set-designs does make it a hard slog to sit through. But like I said before it can ultimately prove rewarding if you pay attention and give it half a chance. So fair warning, that by the end, though you may realize and concede that you've just witnessed a brash artistic assertion, you probably will have no clue as to what that assertion really was let alone what it really meant.

See! Exhausting.

While researching this film there was no real gray area when it came to opinions on it: Some found it to be a one of kind gem ... beautiful and brilliant, while others found it haphazard, incoherent and an over/ self-indulgent mess. Also, another word that kept popping up on both sides was esoteric, and this being a website that bases its reviews on how much beer it will take to get to the end -- yeah, I had to look that up to see what it really meant:

es-o-ter-ic - adjective: [1.] understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest; recondite: poetry full of esoteric allusions. [2.] belonging to the select few [3.] private; secret; confidential. [4.] of a philosophical doctrine or the like) intended to be revealed only to the initiates of a group: the esoteric doctrines of Pythagoras.

Seems kind of elitist, don't it. And I've never really bought into that kind of film theory, either: the whole "you don't like it 'cuz you just don't get it" spiel just doesn't fly. Art is art, and crap is crap, right? Well, one man's crap can be another man's art and ... wait -- What were we talking about again?

Anyways, Questi made his first big bona fide assertion a year earlier with the offbeat spaghetti western Se sei vivo spara a/k/a Django Kill ... If You Live, Shoot! Collaborating on the script with his editor, Franco Arcalli, this peculiar and weird tale of frontier justice opens with the hero of the piece clawing his way out of his own grave. Nursed back to health by a couple of shamans, armed with golden bullets, the Stranger then sets off on a quest for vengeance on those who left him for dead, only to wind up in a hell of his own making in a brutal little town called The Unhappy Place -- and that's all I'm gonna say except I strongly suggest you all check the movie out; it's a real head-trip. So, having already turned the spaghetti western on its ear, Questi and Arcalli then executed the same kind of Jedi-mind@#%k on the gialli with Death Laid an Egg. These two co-conspirators definitely liked to pull the rug out from under an audience, and from the opening credits on, and everything that follows is a frenetic shell-game to keep the audience off balance and on their toes to try and keep track of the pea. But the question is: is it the pea we should be keeping our eye on, or something else?

Heavy. I know.

And exhausting.

Now, the plot I just described up above probably sounds fairly standard and conventional, right? And if we boil all of Questi's excess meat off the plot of Death Laid an Egg and get it down to the bare bones I transcribed, things are surprisingly simple and fairly straight-forward once you figure out that basically everyone is screwing around with everyone else as a means to their own ends, and in the end, everyone, except maybe Anna*, gets exactly what they deserve. But it is the meat that makes the broth, not the bones, and that's what really sets this film apart from its contemporaries.

   *  I'm not sure I get all the hate that's heaped on Anna. Sure, Marco's balls might be in her hip pocket, but let's be honest, he's the one who put them in there. And it's only because the schnook is cheating on her that she plots to get back at him. Admittedly, I was a little confused on whether the point to tart up was to win him back at the hotel or some bizarre need to become what he likes to justify her infidelity with Mondaini. Regardless, Gina Lollobrigida is a stone-cold fox, no matter what she's wearing, and I was looking for any excuse to post this pin-up of her -- so here ya go:

Now back to the review already in progress...

I mean, we haven't even talked about the bizarre subplot of the bio-engineered chickens -- an accidental mutant strain brought on by Marco's clumsiness in the lab and the addition of one errant puppy into the feed mix (-- this is where Marco gets the idea for disposing a body at the feed mill), that have no beaks or claws and no real bone structure. Marco is appalled by them, feeling they're an abomination and should be destroyed; but all Anna can see is more meat with less fuss, and more meat with less fuss means more money. Yeah, it's not a really subtle plot device reducing the chicken to an impudent lump, so it's no surprise that Marco breaks into the lab and violently destroys them all with a really big stick. His manhood fairly recovered, only then does he actually entertain the notion of killing his wife for real instead of pretending to kill her surrogate.

There are several other bizarre set-pieces that Questi uses to speed up and then derail the film's momentum: Like the scene on the highway, where Gabrielle explains to Marco how she became an orphan when her parents died in a fiery car crash. With each shift in gears, we cut back and forth between the present and the past, from close-ups to speeding lines on the asphalt, faster and faster, until we see the twisted and burning wreck. And then there's the scene at the party where Mondaini and Gabrielle turn up the heat on their two marks by flirting with them and with each other, stoking the fires of jealousy up to a boiling point. The evening is then capped by Mondaini's strange new party game, "The Room of Truth," where said room is cleared of all material possessions, leaving a starkly white and blank slate, to clear the minds of the participants. Said participants then draw lots to see who they're paired up with, and then they're shut in the room, alone, where anything can happen with no repercussions. It all boils down to a surreal game of truth or dare, or in some cases a one-sided game of grab fanny, but when Marco and Gabrielle take their [rigged] turn together, Mondaini kills the lights, prompting an unnecessary but strategic scream from Gabrielle. Party's over, and it's during the clean up that an agitated Anna finds an anonymous note, clueing her in on Marco's numerous hotel rendezvous. It's a weird, weird scene that epitomizes the director's modus operandi to a tee: the white palette of the room, the bold colors of the costumes, crowding characters into corners, the lingering, lingering, lingering shot, then the *crash* *bang* edit, extreme close-up, slow pan, linger, linger, *crash* linger *bang* fast zoom, fall back, linger, *crash* etc. etc. etc. 

Though Questi liked to heap on that kind of chaotic distortion to screw with the narrative, there is a certain -- I don't know, lack of subtlety to it that I think derails any calls of pretentiousness on the filmmakers motives. I'm not really big on the whole art for art's sake, especially in experimental filmmaking, because nine times out of ten it's done so heavy handedly it quickly becomes laughable, or worse yet, extremely annoying, so I think it's a true testament to Questi and Co.'s skills for winning me over so completely.

In the end, Death Laid an Egg is another one of those movies whose reputation has probably been enhanced by it's lack of availability as only those who really want to see it will effort to track it down. It's also one of those movies that the written word can't do justice to. Brazen and bold, and completely off the wall, it needs to be endured for oneself. And there's the real rub. Awhile back, I know the fine folks at Blue Underground had to renege on a promised DVD release when the copyright holders upped their asking price at the last minute. I'd been trying to see it for years, and the copy I finally got my most grateful hands on was a rocky, third or fourth generation pan and scan VHS dub with Spanish subtitles -- but Questi's style still showed through with flying colors, and I still hold out hope for seeing a legitimate and pristine release one day to enjoy it all over again.

And finally, a big thank you and a shout out to Josh Shepherd, a/k/a Bergerjaques, over at The BMMB for loaning me this hard to find Italian nugget of sheer nuttiness. See you in Chicago, my friend.

Originally Posted: 11/29/08 :: Rehashed: 05/04/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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