Carte blanche to the Festival del film Locarno
When the FIFF asked me to choose a favourite film to open the upcoming festival, at the crossroads of countries and film cultures, I selected Ivan Passer’s Cutter's Way (1981). If American cinema of the 1970s challenged the established values, myths and narratives of classic Hollywood cinema, then Cutter’s Way must be the swan song and the culmination of this era of suspicion. It would be hard to present things in a darker, more desperate and pessimistic manner than Cutter’s Way, which was made ten years after the Czech filmmaker’s turbulent entry onto the US film scene with Born to Win (1971, with George Segal), a masterpiece that has not received the attention it deserves as the most sensitive, realistic and cruel film about drug addiction.
Cutter’s Way is, or appears to be, a modern retake on the film noir, in the manner of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973) or Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974). The police investigation serves as a pretext to depict a community (here, the peaceful and prosperous Santa Barbara, California) and a cast of colourful outsiders. In a deeper vein, Cutter’s Way presents a disastrous assessment of a nation that has given up its last illusions in the Vietnam War and a society that is riddled with corruption.
The character of Cutter, a young man from a good family, is the American hero, reduced to a broken, vociferous and sneering cripple who has lost an eye, an arm and a leg in Vietnam. He is committing slow alcoholic suicide in the dives of the city. His friend Bone, a working-class boy with the body of Apollo, is a dogsbody to rich men during the day and a gigolo for their wives at night. Almost pathologically attached to his far cleverer best friend, Bone is guilt ridden for having stayed safe at home during the war and for being an able-bodied and seductive man who is in love with his friend’s wife.
While he is physically and morally broken, Cutter is nevertheless a kind of oracle, an extremely lucid soothsayer who makes a clean sweep of the paranoid trajectory of the film, not giving any more slack to the pacifist and antiracist conscience of the Western world than he gives to the rampant Fascism and unbridled capitalism that hold sway under the California sun. One final leap of courage and heroism gives the protagonists in this sinister affair the opportunity for a sacrificial and redemptive ending, where death appears as the only real justice and the only way to reclaim one’s dignity.
Cutter’s Way is without a doubt every bit as important a film and just as political as Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980), made the same year, also for United Artists. As a matter of fact, the excellent Jeff Bridges appears in the credits of both films (both are voyages to the end of night, both are romantic and catastrophic visions of American civilisation), while John Heard (Cutter) and Lisa Eichhorn (Mo) deliver unforgettable performances, no doubt the most under-estimated in contemporary film. Stripped of all pretence, intelligently recreating the atmosphere of detective stories so as to transcend them all the more cleverly, Ivan Passer’s film also offers a sensitive evocation of a beautiful and tragic love triangle in which all three lovers are united in the bonds of failure and grief.
Olivier Père, artistic director of the Festival del film Locarno
Screening of Cutter's Way
with Ivan Passer and Olivier Père
Thursday, March 29, 2012, 8:30 pm, Cap'Ciné 1, 105 min., English with German and French subtitles |
Masterclass Ivan Passer
hosted by Olivier Père
Friday, March 30, 12am-2pm, Cap'Ciné 7, free entry |