Koch Media Western Collection #1: Quien Sabe? (A Bullet For The General) R2 DVD Review
Damiano Damiani is perhaps most recognized for the critically acclaimed TV series [b]La Piovra[/b] - but before he, like many other directors at that time, joined the TV business in the late 70s, he made a number of quality films featuring some of Europe's greatest actors, intelligent screenplays and perhaps most importantly, obvious political implications. Released at the height of the spaghetti western craze in 1966, [b]Quien Sabe? (A Bullet for the General)[/b] remained his only serious entry in this particular genre (ignoring the bland comedy [b]Nobody is the Greatest[/b]). And indeed, all of Damiani's trademarks apply here, [b]Quien Sabe?[/b] being such a fantastic film that it's actually a bit demeaning to just call it a Western (Looking at the interview included on the DVD, Damiani would agree with me).
Set in the Mexican Revolution, the film tells the story of El Chuncho (Gian Maria Volonté) and his band of revolutionaries which among others, includes the delusional priest El Santo (Klaus Kinski). After raiding a train to steal guns, they meet the mysterious American Bill (Lou Castel). Bill asks to join the group and befriends El Chuncho after a while. They set out to steal even more guns with the intention of selling them to the Revolution's leader, General Elías, but after numerous events, Bill's loyalty is called into question.
[b]Quien Sabe?[/b] seems to have been realized with a budget significantly higher than what was usual at the time for such a film, suiting its serious tone and scope. This is not a 'B-movie' by any means, not even a 'genre film'. Damiani has made a thoughtful, absorbing masterpiece about the insanity of violent revolution and political oppression. With both irony and tragedy he brillianty depicts how the honorable goals of fighting for freedom and equity quickly deteriorate into pretenses for greed and personal well-being. The poor Mexican people suffer most between the two sides, and while Damiani's sympathies obviously lie with the revolutionaries, nobody comes off unscathed. The ultimate stroke of genius here is the highly ambiguous character of Bill - neither El Chuncho nor us viewers are able to figure out his true motivations until the very end. Lou Castel's great acting helps in that regard, with the rest of the cast being just as stellar; one might argue that Gian Maria Volonté essentially plays the exact same character in every Western he appears in, but that doesn't make his intense performance any less powerful. Last but not least, Kinski makes the most out of its side character, who would have deserved a bit more screen time.
With its gorgeous cinematography, grand set pieces and poignant message, [b]Quien Sabe?[/b] can only be labeled a true classic. It paved the way for other Mexican Revolution-set films, most notably [b]Duck You Sucker![/b], but even Leone wasn't quite able to match the greatness of Damiani's film. Even if you're not a fan of spaghetti westerns, [b]Quien Sabe?[/b] simply needs to be seen.
[b]Quien Sabe?[/b] already received a more than adequate treatment by Blue Underground a while ago, and this new R2 DVD from the new Western Collection by Koch Media seems to be based upon the same transfer. Still, it makes for a great alternative - all releases in the collection come in beautiful, slim digipaks, with stylish covers and menus. Those (including me) who feared that Koch would cut down on extra features after a year of uncertainty regarding the continuation of their Spaghetti Western releases can stop worrying now, because this disc is just as English-friendly and filled with bonus features as their previous releases. There's either English audio or subtitles available for all parts of the DVD, and apart from the main feature, you can find an insightful interview with Damiano Damiani as well as one with Lou Castel. Both have a slew of interesting and funny anecdotes to tell and also delve into the more serious question of what makes a Western. Koch have also added a bunch of trailers and a stills gallery.
This is an excellent DVD of an excellent film and I encourage everyone to buy it - Koch need every financial success they can get in order to continue their Western Collection. I'll be reviewing the collection's second title, Tinto Brass' [b]Yankee[/b] in the upcoming week, so stay tuned. It's likely that Xploited Cinema is going to stock these new Koch DVDs soon, so that's your place to go if you want to import any of them.