Ecce bombo (Behold the Man) (1978)
Director: Nanni Moretti.
Starring: Nanni Moretti (Michele Apicella), Luisa Rossi (Michele's mother), Lina Sastri (Olga), Piero Galletti (Goffredo), Susanna Javicoli (Silvia), Cristina Manni (Cristina), Lorenza Ralli (Michele's sister Valentina), Maurizio Romoli (Flaminia's husband Cesare), Carola Stagnaro (Flaminia), Fabio Traversa (Mirko), Giorgio Viterbo (Reporter for 'Telecalifornia'), Paolo Zaccagnini (Vito).
black humor spoofs the then current wave of terrorism and bombings in Italy
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A man and a woman slip into a small trailer cabin. They start having sex. The camera pulls back and we see the scene is being filmed. The name of the film is: "The Steel Workers Only Have a Few Guns". Michele sits next to a red-headed woman named Silvia having lunch and tells her that it isn't right that she is assistant director of filth. Silvia says Italian films are racist because they always pick on old people, homosexuals, ugly women, the cross-eyed and the lame. Her boyfriend says there is emerging a completely new, thinking cinema.
Four guys sit around a table at a place called The Snack Bar. One of them is Michele. Another one of them is eating ice cream. They can't decide what to do as a small group. They come up with several suggestions, but none are satisfactory to all.
Still in his pajamas, Michele sits down at the table to eat. With him are his mother, father and his sister.
Michele goes to a cafe and sits with Silvia. He tells her that his regular gang is coming and he doesn't like introducing people who he really likes to the gang. So the woman leaves. The gang of four are together again. And again they can't agree on doing something that everyone wants to do. They go visit a family which is currently having supper.
Michele's sister Valentina is crying. Brother comes home at 2 a.m. and asks his mother what happened? Mauro came over at 10 p.m. and talked to Valentina for 4 hours. Then at near 2 a.m. Dad told Valentina that it was late and she has school tomorrow. So Mauro left and Valentina made a scene saying that it's been months since she last saw Mauro. Michele asks: "Why'd you throw Mauro out?" Dad says that he didn't throw anybody out. Michele asks his father why does he butt into Valentina's business? The brother seems to feel betrayed when his sister sides with her father.
A young fellow named Mario calls into a radio station saying that he's been faking it for the whole day. He goes on and on saying he faked everything he did that day.
Bored out of his mind, Michele bothers his father at work. He picks up and examines things on his desk and even throws a letter in the trash can. He empties the trash can onto dad's desk.
At the table, Michele's mother says to her husband: "We'd like to sit-in, but school's almost out. I don't think this is the right time." Dad leaves the table without responding. Michele, who seems to be spoiled rotten, goes after dad and shouts at him. The whole house seems to be run more according to Michele than anyone else.
Mom tells Michele that she really doesn't know who he is. And: "Anyway when are you getting married?"
Mario calls into the radio station again. Today he is talking about his "disassociation".
Michele complains to his pretty red-head that she made love to a set designer who has 3 children. He says the set designer's friends will remember her as "the one I screwed". He asks where did she have sex? In a hotel room. She adds: "I wanted it!" She starts to cry, comes over to Michele and buries her head in his chest telling him to hold her tight. Michele asks her why she is crying: is it because he's such a great artist?
Michele meets with one of his friends, Mirko. He has a female friend named Olga over from Naples. It seems she is looking for a place in Rome. The friend adds that the young woman has mental problems. Sometimes she goes crazy and starts breaking things. Michele goes in to talk to the young woman. She tells him that she has to find another job.
A group of young people meet together and plan out the sit-in. Michele watches the group from a distance and sees them start squabbling amongst themselves. From a distance dad studies Michele.
At a meeting of the elementary school teachers, Michele's mother gets up and starts saying that the kids are right to have a sit-in. But when she goes home she asks her daughter if this sit-in is really necessary? She suggests saving the sit-in for the start of school for next year. The daughter doesn't want to talk about that. Instead, she asks her mother why doesn't she go out anymore? She tells mom to do something.
Valentina calls telling her mother that she's going to be staying out all night working on the sit-in. Mom protests but in the end says Valentina always does what she wants, so do it, because she will anyway. Dad protests too, but he doesn't really stand firm. Later Michele tells his parents that the only reasons they don't want Valentina to stay out all night is because she may be making love. Mom replies: "This house is in chaos because I let you do what you want."
When Valentina returns home brother asks her what do they do when they sit-in all night? No answer.
Michele is back with his friends from the radio at Mirko's apartment. His friends want to set him up on a blind date. Michele calls the girl, but then just plays some opera music to her over the phone. When the music finishes, he hangs up the phone and all the guys start laughing their heads off. The "sick" woman in the house asks why do the fellows do this? Maybe the girl is sick and tired of all their phone calls. She tells the guys to go and see her.
A fellow is interviewed by a reporter from Telecalifornia about his organization of young people modeling their actions on the youth of California state, USA. The reporter then goes over to talk to Michele and his friends. Michele says that Vito is good at being a young person. His comment is: "We like being together. It's nice being together."
The guys go out to a beach and wait in the night for the rising of the sun. They want to talk together as very close friends. A new fellow tells the group he's sorry but he is rather content with his life. He likes his job and his wife Flaminia. Michele says he's tired of films with Germans on motorcycles with sidecars. And he's tired of the wild party material in the films. One fellow is talking gibberish. Vito says he wishes he had been born at another time in the past. He would have been at the Paris Commune. To sum it all up, they all seem bored out of their minds.
They watch as an older man rides his bicycle with a lot of goods in his huge basket. He keeps yelling: "Behold the man!" The guys watch him as he rides by on the road.
An actor named Luciano comes to complain to the film people that he has no part in this new film. He says he has a thousand different facial expressions. Also there is Michele asking the red headed woman is the film going to be shot away from Rome? He asks Silvia, why doesn't she stay and why do they have to split up? She asks who said they were splitting up? Michele asks when his parents will no longer support him, what is he going to do?
Michele is waiting at the train station with Silvia. He asks her not to go. She says she has to go. He grabs the suitcase from her hand and throws it against the wall. Then he leaves.
Michele is with the guys again. Mirko is saying that these days they are all bored, disillusioned and tired. And they have been politically inactive. He says he's fed up mainly because he's not having any fun. Mirko says they should talk about important things and asks Michele to talk about his life. Michele refuses, but says Cesare, the only happy man, can talk about his life.
The group meets Flaminia, wife of Cesare, very briefly, but enough for Michele to think that he loves the pretty woman. He has the nerve to call her up and ask: "Could you be in love with me? Could we meet to fall in love with me?" What an idiot! And rude too! But Flaminia goes to the beach with him and talks with him. He tells her that he was thinking about making love to her. She says: "If you'd said so right away, we could've done it. Now you've gone on so much, what's behind this?" Flaminia adds: "If there's a reason why you asked me to make love, then let's not do it, if not, why shouldn't we?" This completely confuses Michele.
Mirko talks with his guest, Olga. He tells her she's not well and wants her to explain it to him. She just asks him to hold her hands. So they hold hands.
Olga calls a friend. Then she calls another. A couple come over to talk awhile, but soon they they have to go to a concert.
The guys are together again. They talked about forming a basketball team. Now they practice a huddle and a team shout. One of the guys starts telling a boring story about his life and Michele starts waddling loudly with his mouth making the sound of a wild turkey. They finally decide to go see the young people at the commune. The news from there is that they have "tragic" financial problems. The commune spokesman is as boring as the gang of five.
Michele arrives back home where his dad is playing rummy with his friends. Mom is depressed. She refers to herself as "poor mom" and says: "I'm always at home, frustrated. . . . I do the same things every day. I have to get drunk to invent new things." She also says she is afraid and has no desire. Michele comes in to the kitchen and complains about mother always talking to herself. He says he was with Mirko and the others, "consciousness raising". (The truth is the guys never even approach consciousness, much less rising consciousness.)
Valentina comes home late and Michele complains that she never stays at home. She says he does the exact same thing. Michele says it's different because he is working on a political project with friends. Valentina tells him that even sisters and parents have their own sexuality. Michele looks shocked. He places his hands over his eyes and says: "Oh, my God! This is the reward!" He goes on to say that mom and dad will limit her freedoms if she keeps up this pace. Moreover, mom is always upset. Basically, Valentina says he doesn't give a shit about mother anyway.
Then mom scolds Valentina for not telling them where she is and when she will be home. In the morning, Michele tells his parents: "Only I can bawl out Valentina." Mother replies: "Idiot!" He repeats: "Leave my sister alone!"
The reporter for Telecalifornia, channel 71, for young people, who love to love, struggle and dance. But now it's exam time and the students have to buckle down. He interviews a young lady, 18 years of age.
Michele and another fellow have been helping a student study for his exams. And today it's time for the examination. The guy from Telecalifornia tries to interview the student, but someone tells him not to do that. The reporter leaves. The examiners say that this is a non-traditional exam, more of an exchange of ideas. (The whole thing sounds a little too wimpy and friendly.) Since the student has prepared a paper on the poetry of Alvaro Rissa, they will talk about the poet. The examiners have never heard of this poet. So over walks a young man, who says he is the poet Alvaro Rissa.
The exams go on. Michele has had enough and shouts: "Oh, no, enough! This is real torture!" The examiners ask who is he? He answers: "What, who am I? I prepared him!"
Mirko welcomes his family to his apartment. In the apartment are Olga and Michele. Everyone acts so stiff and formal. Mirko puts on some music. Dad dances with Olga, mom with Michele and Mirko with his sister.
The gang is together again. Mirko says what they talk about is the problems of the petty bourgeoisie. They record a session discussing love and relationships. (The talk is very petty indeed.)
Flaminia and Michele are in a Volkswagon bug talking. She says she wants an all or nothing relationship. She maintains that Michele is so distant emotionally. He asks her about Caesare, but she only says that things are normal. He says he asked because he himself is jealous and possessive. Flaminia get mad and asks him how dare he say this? She gets out of the car. Michele yells to ask her if she is teasing him? She says that she told Cesare about all this and he's feeling "awful bad".
When the guys gets together the topic of Cesare, Flaminia and Michele is brought up.
Back at home Cesare cries in the bathroom, while Flaminia stands by the locked door asking him to come out.
Flaminia meets with Michele in her Volkswagon and tells him that they can't meet anymore. She says in a week, he won't even remember her. Michele, rather casually, tells her goodbye, gets out of the car and starts walking.
At Michele's home, dad gets frustrated with his family and once again leaves the table. Michele goes into the living room to scold dad; dad is flippant with one of his answers; and gets slapped by Michele.
Dad is out of the house. He calls his wife to arrange a little getaway for the family, minus Michele. At home Michele talks with his sister.
Michele is left at home as the family goes on a two month vacation. He has a girl over to the apartment. They went to school together. They both reveal that they liked the other in school. They have sex (not shown) and then in bed talk some more. Later the two of them sit in a huge field and talk some more. He asks her to go to the country for a week with him.
Michele and the girl from school are sitting on a bench in a small park with a large fountain. He tells her that he has decided to break off his relationship with her. Why he asks himself? "Because I don't know how to have a girlfriend." He says he's no good and even despises himself. His friend tells him that he must understand that relationships have to be built. ". . . there are obstacles that have to be overcome first, without running away." Michele admits she's right, but he can't manage it.
The gang is together minus Cesare. And they are bored as usual. Then the guys start berating Michele for chasing Cesare away.
Michele goes through his call list and finds someone, namely Giorgio, to call. The conversation is extremely brief. Alone in his skivvies in the apartment, Michele is bored. He reads aloud the headlines from the newspaper. In his bedroom, he screams out a cry of frustration.
Among the hippies waiting for a rock concert to start outdoors there is a lot of crying. The newspaper had the news that the police have ejected the hippie campers. Mr. Telecalifornia interviews the producer of the event. There is virtually no one here at the rock concert set-up, but the producer says that they are expecting up to half a million peoples to show up for the music.
Mario is on the phone again to the radio station. He says his Ethiopian buddy tells him that Italy is in chaos. And it's an underdeveloped country. And don't forget it's the weakest part of NATO.
Mirko visits the folks at the commune. Cesare and Flaminia look bored. Cesare asks her if she wants to go the the movies? Yes. One of the gang calls the radio to talk to the women DJs. Luciano talks on the phone to the same DJs. He reads his own poems to the audience.
Michele is still bored. He goes through some old newspapers and some old letters. One letter, five years old, catches his interest. It's from a woman who broke off a relationship with Michele.
Michele goes to see the young woman. He asks her if, since the breakup, she's been with other men? Yes. How many men? 3. He asks her to have sex with him and she says no, she doesn't feel like it. "It's nothing against you." He says they are still light-years apart. She responds by saying that he just doesn't convince her of what he's saying. Michele walks out without saying goodbye. He goes to a little place to have something to eat, but he gets thrown out for grabbing a customer who said something political of which Michele didn't approve.
Again with the Mario. This time he complains about the highway tunnels being too narrow.
Mirko tells Michele that he is moving to a commune. Olga will be staying behind in the apartment.
Cesare is back with the group. He suggests that they go see Olga. Michele says no because he can't stand to be around people who are really sick. He says he gets scared and runs away. Everyone leaves Michele's place to go see Olga.
A fellow named Armando calls to ask if a group of friends wants to go and see Olga? Yes. In fact, several groups of people decide to go see Olga.
At night people start dancing at an outdoor restaurant. Michele is alone with Olga.
Well, that was rather a weird film. It's a black comedy about a lost generation of progressives. Almost everyone in the film seems bored to death. There are a lot of conversations in the film, but the people don't seem to be connecting with each other. And the conversations are so banal. Nothing of importance ever gets done in this world. Lost souls wandering around each other. These people are so ridiculously not connected to each other that many of the scenes are funny. Hence, a black comedy. The star character Michele is really a goner. His only nice trait is that he realizes he's no good. And in the end he doesn't seem to have any real friends. He even drove his own family to get away from him on a two month vacation. Michele's group of friends tried to connect with each other, but their attempts were never successful. In that sense, even they know they are boring.
In this film as in Palombella rossa the director has a fictionary “double” named Michele Apicella.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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