“El Chuncho”, a game of fools against a backdrop of the Mexican revolution

El Chuncho represents an important date in the history of Italian cinema. Damiano Damiani’s film released in 1967 inaugurates a series of westerns featuring the Mexican revolution conceived as an allegory of anti-imperialist struggles in the Third World. Beyond that, he exemplifies an inimitable way, typical of the best of the transalpine production of the moment, to mix the spectacular and the reflection, a somewhat trivial lyricism and a willingly abstract dialectical vision.

Originally there is a small production company from Emilia-Romagna, the MCM directed by Bianco Manini, a screenplay by Salvatore Laurani and a director, the very underrated Damiano Damiani, until now mostly author of ‘literary adaptations to cinema (The Island of Forbidden Loves according to Elsa Morante, Boredom and its diversion eroticism after Alberto Moravia). Damiani entrusts the screenplay to Franco Solinas who, with the help of the filmmaker, will give it its final version, imposing on the story a political dimension not exempt from resonances with contemporary history.

A Mexican bandit (Gian Maria Volontè) who supplies stolen weapons to a legendary revolutionary leader accepts a young American (Lou Castel) of mysterious origins into his gang. He befriends the stranger, without understanding the real goal of the stranger, a hired killer in the service of the government in place. Franco Solinas, who started his career in the early 1950s, had just signed the script for The Battle of Algiers by Luigi Pontecorvo and especially that of the western by Sergio Sollima, Colorado, which contained in germ the very principle of the story on which the screenwriter would play, for several years, many variations.

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Allegorical vision of imperialism

Two men of different origin, one Western, the other poor citizen of a third world victim of colonization, measure each other, confront each other, eventually ally or remain enemies, prisoners of their class belonging. and their individual affects. This is a pattern that will recur, later, in other titles with a script by Solinas: the Zapatista western (He mercenary by Sergio Corbucci, Three for a massacre by Giulio Petroni) or the frontally didactic historical film (Queimada by Gillo Pontecorvo). All these titles, however openly commercial, will offer an allegorical vision of imperialism while questioning, even shaking up, the spectator’s ability to identify with characters irreducible to their sole psychological construction.

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