(director/writer: Curzio Malaparte; screenwriter: from the novel by Curzio Malaparte; cinematographer: Gábor Pogány; editor: Giancarlo Cappelli; music: Curzio Malaparte; cast: Raf Vallone (Bruno Baldi), Alain Cuny (Mastro Antonio), Phillipe Lemaire (Pinin), Rina Morelli (Mother Baldi), Gino Cervi (Sexton), Anna Maria Ferrero (Maria), Elena Varzi (Nella), Gualtiero Tumiati (Bruno’s Father), Ernesta Rosmino (Assunta); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paolo Frasca; Ripley’s Home Video; 1951-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

Strange Deception, indeed!

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Strange Deception, indeed! It tells a postwar revenge story that is resolved as a Christian morality play, asking why the innocent are pushed by the world to kill other innocents.It is the movie directorial debut of novelist Curzio Malaparte and his only directed film. He also wrote the musical score. The Italo-German novelist turned director, who was during the war an Italian journalist with a military rank and functioned as a liaison officer. Curzio was born Kurt Erich Suckert.

Bruno Baldi (Raf Vallone) is an Italian soldier who returns from a Russian prisoner of war camp to his Tuscany village and is determined to kill the one who betrayed his 17-year-old Partisan brother Guilio to a German firing squad. Though everyone in the village seems to know who is the betrayer, no one tells because they are all tired of the bloodshed from the war and want to forget about it. His mother (Rina Morelli) and crippled father (Gualtiero Tumiati) and Maria (Anna Maria Ferrero), the teenage orphan who was taken in as the family servant, all refuse to tell. The anguished Bruno walks around for days searching, but to no avail. Bruno attends the church procession, called the Game of the Cross, as those in the procession wear grotesque masks and the sexton (Gino Cervi) exhibits a bare cross and dares an innocent from the crowd to come forth to die for another’s sins.

The one trusted most by Bruno, a saintly philosopher loner carpenter, Mastro Antonio (Alain Cuny), can’t talk his friend out of seeking vengeance, so he invites him over at night to his isolated mountain and falsely confesses to be the betrayer. In a flash of anger, Bruno throws his knife into his heart and kills him. When Bruno learns his brother’s betrayer is Pinon (Phillipe Lemaire), the brother of his childhood friend Nella (Elena Varzi ) and a fellow Partisan with his brother, he finds that he’s unable to kill him–Christ’s message of not killing, as delivered by Antonio in his act of self-sacrifice, has finally hit home.

Vallone gives a terrific performance and the message for world peace is New Testament friendly, but the grim story is hard to enjoy as melodrama as it is deliberately unrealistic. It’s meant to be a lofty parable, that points out how hypercritical the world is that ignores Christianity’s main tenet of not killing. Also it’s schematic, as everything breaks in favor of Malaparte’s agenda. But it’s powerfully delivered and has a fresh strangeness to it that makes it irresistible.