Released in 1968, “Le Grand Silence”, the only western by Jean-Louis Trintignant and the pinnacle of the career of director Sergio Corbucci, shatters the codes of the genre. To culminate in a final sequence as atrocious as it is sublime, of absolute nihilism.
In the province of Utah, United States. The extreme cold of the winter of 1898 pushes outlaws, loggers and hungry peasants to descend from the forests and mountains and pillage villages to survive. Their heads are quickly put a price on by the authorities. A band of bounty hunters respond to the call, taking advantage of legality, to prefer the “dead” to the “alive.
At its head, the cruelest of all: Tigrero (extraordinary Klaus Kinski). Pauline (Vonetta McGee), whose husband is killed before her eyes by this sadist, decides to hire a man nicknamed Silence, in order to help her take revenge…
Far from the landscapes charred by the sun or the picaresque aspects of a West revisited by his colleague Sergio Leone in his dollar trilogy; at the opposite extreme also from a John Ford who saw in the West and its wide open spaces the return and refuge of the pioneering values which largely shaped the face of America, Sergio Corbucci opts with the Great Silence on the contrary to extraordinary mountainous and snowy landscapes. And is inspired in passing by authentic events linked to thewhich would also serve as the template, years later, for Michael Cimino’s cursed masterpiece, Heaven’s Gate.
An anarchist filmmaker, steeped in revolutionary ideas that he found in Malcolm And, incidentally, a film that Quentin Tarantino largely borrowed from for his own western The Dirty Eight.
A morality that is never saved
In the Great Silence, the good guys do not triumph in the end; (good) morality is not saved; a new dawn does not rise. A unique work, astoundingly radical, and so nihilistic that its American distributor, Fox, which co-produced the film, refused to release it across the Atlantic.
The only western in the entire career of the late Jean-Louis Trintignant who plays Silence (and for whom it was his favorite role), a mute vigilante whose throat was slit in his youth by his parents’ assassins, the film is also intended to be hyper realistic (the cold preserves the corpses, freezes the weapons…), to culminate in a final massacre which again deviates from the codes of the genre.
Here, the final shootout is not so much the result of who draws the fastest. The bonus for survival is especially for the one who draws last, and in the most cowardly way possible. Horribly injured in the hands before the final confrontation, Silence is again seriously injured in the hands by an ambush bounty hunter, before Tigrero shoots him in the head.
Hypnotized by the extraordinary music of Ennio Morricone who signs with this film one of his most beautiful soundtracks, the spectator discovers, stunned, the hero who turns out to be incapable of drawing his revolver due to his injury, before being finished off. .
Witnessing the scene, Pauline rushes to try to take Silence’s revolver and finish the job, before she too is shot. And Tigrero carried out a final massacre with his henchmen on the population of the village, who were being held hostage in the saloon.
Here’s the end again…
An ending so pessimistic that the American co-producer, Darryl F. Zanuck, forced Sergio Corbucci to shoot another one, this time optimistic. The director did so, but it was so (and deliberately) outrageous that it was unusable. According to Corbucci himself, the producer never forgave him for this affront.
There she is :
What remains is the first ending, both atrocious and sublime, of rare savagery. So much the better for movie buffs and western lovers who have a totally justified cult of this immense film; one of the best of the transalpine western.