Death Laid An Egg first published by Sight & Sound, Nov 2018
“Now we want to try to conceptualise the chicken as the principal actor in the drama of modern life,” says advertising agent Mondaini (Jean Sobieski). “We’ll take them by surprise with an approach that’s absolutely new, that’s newer than tomorrow, preposterously new.” Mondaini’s words might as well serve as the manifesto for committed communist director Giulio Questi’s artful proto-giallo Death Laid An Egg, aka A Curious Way To Love, aka Plucked (1968) – with its formal innovations and its surreal focus on chicken-and-egg life cycles.
When he’s not playing out murderous fantasies in a modernist motel, Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is caught in a love triangle with his wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida) and her younger cousin Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin) at the automated poultry plant that they run – as laid-off workers protest at the gates. Anna confesses her desire to pull Gabrielle to pieces and reassemble her (“it wouldn’t be to destroy her, but to remake her”) – a revolutionary deconstructive/reconstructive impulse which drives the film. For not only does Marco carve up women who later appear intact, but a major character is ultimately ground up and reconstituted as literal chicken feed. Meanwhile, as eggs are genetically modified to produce living chicks without heads or wings, the embryonic tropes of giallo are themselves deconstructed and rearranged. The narrative is disorientingly fragmented by Bruno Maderna’s discordant score and co-writer Franco Arcali’s jarring edits – only to be reintegrated at the end. Meanwhile, Nucleus Films have found and restored 13 minutes of lost footage (stripped from the original in the early Seventies), most of which, reflexively enough, concerns the quest of Marco’s friend Luigi (Renato Romano) to reconstruct memories he lost to electroshock therapy. There is no other hybrid of erotic thriller, class critique and arthouse absurdism quite like it.
Disc: “Maybe this is the strangest film we have ever talked about,” concedes S&S’s own Kim Newman in the audio commentary that he shares with giallo expert Alan Jones. Other extras include James Blackford discussing Questi’s career, and an archival interview with the director himself. The restoration is a miracle.
© Anton Bitel