Saturday, 29 August 2015

Hitch-Hike (1977)

Superficially Hitch-Hike is the story of an arguing couple (Franco Nero and Corinne Cléry) who pick up a hitch-hiker (David Hess) who turns out to be a psychopath with two-million dollars in his suitcase. Rather more interestingly, I think it can also be read as the story of a woman in an abusive relationship seeking empowerment though a crucible of fear and terror and becoming a Nietzschean superwoman (her name is Eve - the proto-woman). Ultimately this reading fails in the last 5 minutes, but that doesn't stop the change in her character throughout the rest of the film. Interestingly the director, Pasquale Festa Campanile, was normally a screenwriter who was previously nominated for an Academy Award, so I don't think this sort of sub-text is unwarranted.

Rather than your average bloody and violent poliziotteschi /exploitation film, Hitch-Hike comes over as more of a character study with exploitation elements. Each of the three main characters are well rounded and essential to the story, with the husband (Nero) being an unsuccessful journalist who relies on his wife's inheritance to survive and treats her as a possession to be protected. The hiker (Hess) is a man used to taking what he wants and treats the woman as a trophy to be won. Hess is honest in his brutality whereas Nero is the typical apologetic wife-beater. The wife (Cléry) slowly gains control over her life and understands that she is not defined by men.

Hitch-Hike is a film in the grand-tradition of "Lonely Road" films such as The Hitcher, Spoorloos (The Vanishing) and Duel where the road and the journey is as important as the characters and propels the plot. This has prompted me to build a list of similar films which I'll add to the review when complete. The photography by Franco Di Giacomo and Giuseppe Ruzzolini is stunning and really captures the wide open spaces with only a few lapses in focus. The cast is great with both Hess and Nero (against type) playing nasty bastards perfectly and Cléry bringing great strength and subtlety to her character. The soundtrack is fantastic with Ennio Morricone excelling himself with a dirty desert influenced score that fits the film like a glove.

There is one particular moment during the film that I would have assumed that the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) would have trouble with passing uncut and that's the pivotal rape scene. Whilst there are various rapes throughout the film this particular scene, if taken out of context, has Cléry's character seemingly enjoy being raped. As the BBFC have passed the film uncut (2015), I think they agree that Cléry does not submit to the rape or actually enjoy it. She instead takes control and says, "this is my body, and I am allowing you to have sex with me". This nullifies the rape, removing control from Hess and taking it for herself. Importantly during this scene, she continually looks at her husband, displaying that he too does not own her. It's an interesting, potentially inflammatory scene and I would be interested to hear what others think.

If there is a fault, I would say the last five minutes, as alluded to above, negate a lot of the preceding character building. Yes, it's a perfect exploitation ending, but it could have been so much better.

I've hitched a fair bit in my life and also offered lifts to hikers and I know that there's always that first few seconds when you get in the car (or vice-versa) where you wonder if the person opposite you is be a nutter. In fact I've only ever had one experience even remotely like that when I once gave a lift to an armed robber going to see his parole officer, and he turned out to be quite a lovely bloke.

Hitch-Hike is a great exploitation film-cum-character study that deserves to be on your watch-list.

Letterboxd Review

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