The worst Italian film of the year, or perhaps the worst film of any year, is arguably Ermanno Olmi’s Cento Chiodi. Briefly, it is the story of a fed-up philosophy professor at the University of Bologna who decides to nail one hundred holy books to the floor using large spikes reminiscent of–what else?–Jesus’ crucifixion. One may presume he was fed up with the hypocrisy of religion, but his antiheroic gesture is never explained. He then takes off into the countryside, tosses his cell out the window, dumps his BMW under a bridge and sets out to fashion a new life for himself. We are in sub-Robinson Crusoe territory as he fumbles about on the banks of the Po, eventually settling in an abandoned stone house on the riverbank. The film proceeds ploddingly along through his eventual acceptance by the locals, until finally half the town is helping him build a roof and dig a garden. All of this is banal and, needless to say, improbable. What ties it together in the director’s mind is our ex-professor’s striking resemblance to Jim Caviezel in Mel Gibson’s horror flick, The Passion of the Christ. You will not wonder that all the locals (twelve of them) fall for him. We even have an inoffensive love interest, the town virgin. It’s all here, and in pickled north-Italian dialect, too.
So when the police reclaim his house and send him back to Bologna, where he faces off with the priest whose precious volumes he’d nailed to the floor, his new friends can’t figure out what do do in his absence. So they plan for his return. He never does. The end. The climactic moment of the film comes when our Caviezelesque philosopher tells the offended priest that all the wisdom in all the books in the world cannot beat a cup of coffe with a good friend. Is this the ultimate message of the film?
It’s tempting to think that by tossing in a bunch of loose references to the life of Jesus one can make a quality film. Such subject matter is often overcharged and overplayed and requires too little effort both from the director and viewer. Throw in a couple of shock images: iron stakes, defiled bibles, angered priests, and one can liberally dream the rest of the movie where there is none. The film plays up its references in such a poorly constructed fashion that the effect is ludicrous. It’s the polar opposite of Gibson’s bloodbath–it’s a sleeping pill.
Marc Alan Coen, also in the NEWYORKERS section of this blog.