Wednesday, December 29, 2021

May Morning (Ugo Liberatore, 1970)

For much of its length, Ugo Liberatore’s May Morning seems largely anthropological in intent, closely observing the architecture, social texture and embalmed oddities of Oxford University, apparently boundlessly fascinated with the rowing and the punting and the dining halls, with the contrasts between the very proper dons (that’s what they call the teachers) and fashion-channeling students, with such rituals as the “sconce,” in which a social wrongdoer is punished by being made to drink a large amount of ale. The film’s outsider perspective, embodied in an Italian protagonist, Valerio, who struggles to fit in, is illuminating up to a point, although the fact of many of the actors being dubbed into English introduces a counter-productive sense of distancing. It’s not just the central presence of Jane Birkin (playing Flora Finlake, a student who happens also to be the daughter of Valerio’s tutor) that suggests Antonioni’s lurking influence (although given that Zabriskie Point was released a little later, the occasional similarities in that regard must be coincidental); the “swinging” elements become more prominent as the film goes on, with actions dictated by alcohol and anger and horniness, ultimately feeling like a rather disembodied, twisted reverie. Liberatore certainly takes pains to emphasize the institution’s repressed aspects, having a character observe that dons were traditionally prevented from marrying, and throwing plenty of baggage into the Finlake household; Valerio is presented as being rather supercilious and academically lazy, but his main transgression is simply his exotic otherness and its threat to cozy continuity, attributes which ultimately mark him as a suitable “sacrificial victim” (as the film’s poster put it). In that respect, May Morning’s unexpectedly wide scope also encompasses links to the later Wicker Man and other localized, ceremonial horrors (interesting that the University's term for expulsion is “rustication”); other aspects though, such as the prominence of the Tremeloes on the soundtrack, seem now to maroon it back in time.

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