Dillinger Is Dead
Dillinger Is Dead would be a total bore if not for the seemingly random act of violence at its climax. Utilizing little dialogue and never much changing its setting, all it does for the majority of its running time is observe an insomniac of a middle-aged man come home from work, watching as he does such mundane activities as eat his dinner, as watch home videos with a sad smile well into the early hours of the morning. His young wife sleeps a pill induced sleep upstairs in the bedroom, mostly uncaring about greeting her husband home with open arms. Realistic in its depiction, but also hopelessly unexciting.
And Dillinger Is Dead plateaus at being hopelessly unexciting until our protagonist finds a red revolver wrapped in newspaper in his closet, until he eventually commits an apparently unmotivated crime with it. Then does the film shift from unbearably echt to piquantly cautionary — by its conclusion, it’s an admonishing take on the unsettlement rooted in middle age, and how long sustained success can, no matter its monetary or personal benefit, imminently drive a person to take drastic measures just to add some sizzle to their foreseeable future.
Granted, Dillinger Is Dead, co-written (with Sergio Bazzini) and directed by Marco Ferreri, is only embedded in half-truth — most of the film is irrepressibly unsentimental. It’s its reactionary defining event that turns everything into an extended metaphor — but the movie strikes an avant-garde chord in its discussion of the effects of alienation and how it can alter one’s reality after they’ve come to realize that they have nothing major left to accomplish in their lifetime.
We have to wait until the last fifteen minutes of Dillinger Is Dead to come to that conclusion, and because everything preceding it ranges from pondering to monotonous (save for its interesting barraging of imagery), the film is, more or less, rewarding. But it also takes a painfully long time to announce itself as being such, and I’m not so sure a movie that only relatively compensates the patience of the viewer can be deemed as a masterpiece. Many critics have declared it to be so, but a deluge has also trashed its accomplishments. I sit somewhere in the middle, sparked by it but also unwilling to forget just how long I had to linger before that spark was ignited.
Dillinger Is Dead does remind us why Michel Piccoli, as the film’s cryptic leading man, is one of France’s most riveting actors, and Anita Pallenberg, as his wife, is able to employ her heroin chic cool so efficiently that her nothing of a role somehow seem like a something. Ferreri’s direction is provocative. If only Dillinger Is Dead could appear as anything other than an art house toy. C+