Blu-ray Review: Cemetery Without Crosses

Starring: Michele Mercier, Robert Hossein
Director: Robert Hossein

cemetery-without-crosses 1French bombshell Michele Mercier is best remembered these days for playing the distraught heroine in the Telephone section of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath and for an unforgettably saucy nude scene in Francois Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste, but in this Gallic spaghetti western she toughens up and takes on a rare grittier, earthier role as Maria, a farmer’s wife who sees her husband strung up before her eyes as a dispute with a neighbouring rancher gets out of hand. Determined to wreak revenge, she seeks the aid of reluctant gunslinger Manuel (Robert Hossein), who infiltrates the baddies and triggers a series of increasingly fateful events.

Hossein scores both as actor and director. As the latter, he plays it admirably straight, showing a touch of Sergio Leone’s flair for striking visual compositions, and matching that with a very French poetic melancholy and a terse, spare form of visual storytelling with the merest scattering of dialogue. As a result, his world-weary gun for hire – who likes to hang out by himself in a ghost town engulfed by sand dunes and who fastidiously puts on a single black glove before each exchange of bullets – is so silent and inscrutable he makes The Man With No Name look like a chatterbox. This minimalist sensibility is reinforced by Hossein’s choice of landscapes, which are almost Kurosawa-like in their haunting grey bleakness. It all makes a great backdrop for Mercier, who is impressively intense and feral as she prowls around in her windswept widow’s weeds.

The first hour or so is as tight and steely as you could wish for, with at least one plot-point that’s surprisingly sadistic and cold-blooded. After that, a slight confusion creeps into the storyline and the last few minutes teeter into sentimentality, but even so Cemetery Without Crosses is a cut above most non-Leone spaghetti westerns, making you wish there were more horse operas with a Gallic flavour out there. 7/10

TRANSFER
This transfer is in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with thin vertical borders. It’s a trifle cloudy at times, with a little softness to the Eastmancolour camerawork and some blotches of green discolouration to a couple of scenes, but close-ups have a nice sweaty sheen, and the scene of Maria riding into the ghost town sparkles beautifully. 6/10

EXTRAS
5-min interview with Robert Hossein, who talks about how he was inspired to make a cemetery-without-crosses 2French spaghetti western after living in Italy for three years. Discussing his friendship with Leone, he reveals that he was supposed to be in Once Upon a Time in the West, and that Leone shot the dinner scene at the baddies’ ranch in Cemetery Without Crosses (one of the standout sequences in the movie). ~ 8-min old French TV piece on the making of the film, in 4:3 ratio and b/w, but with a very nice transfer and extremely worthwhile. There’s some behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot in Almeria in Spain, and a chat with Mercier, who proudly announces that she has blisters on her hands from all the grave-digging she’d been doing. ~ A 2-min interview with the director looking very cool and casual on the Cote d’Azure in the late ’60s. 7/10

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