Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man - Bernardo Bertolucci - 1981
This is far from Bertolucci's best film and since it came out after his streak of better films including The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972) and 1900 (1976) it can't help but fall short. However, seeing it this many years later - well away from the expectations that moviegoers had for a new Bertolucci film -- it is fairly good.
A wealthy cheese factory owner named Primo (Ugo Tognazzi) witnesses his son being kidnapped by terrorists. A while later they demand a ransom that will cost him a fortune - not to mention his business, which is already going bankrupt. His wife (Anouk Aimée) has no hesitation in wanting to pay the ransom. But he does. Especially when he begins to get the feeling that he is being set up and maybe there has been no kidnapping at all. He comes up with a plan - along with two young leftists who work in his factory - to get the ransom money and reinvest it into his factory.
The film was made in an era when radical youth groups were still a topic of discussion and that plays a central role in the film. Much like The Spider's Stratagem [in which a son looks for a father] this one deals with a subject Bertolucci had done before. But it also emphasizes characters having to make choices they are not comfortable with making.
It is not top drawer Bertolucci but it was shot by Carlo Di Palma whose style lends itself well to Bertolucci's sometimes operatic scenes. And the story is a good one - if not slightly cynical in nature. The acting overall is above average - Tognazzi is agreeable as the lead actor while Aimée seems to walk through her role.
So why is this self made factory owner a ridiculous man and what is the tragedy? In part, the two concepts go together. On the one hand, he cares more about his material possessions than his son, but on the other he has fallen into a trap that he should have known better than to get caught in. He too seems unaware of his responsibility as a father, a husband and an employer of many people who rely on his weekly wages. The tragedy is that he may lose everything but he decides to use the event as a way to save his business. His love for success means more than the safety of his son. However it may all be a ruse anyway and he seems to sense it.
This film is only available on VHS and [surprisingly] can still be found brand new on Amazon.