"A Quiet Place in the Country" follows a painter in Milan who finds himself drawn to a dilapidated villa. Upon renting the property, which he plans to restore, he learns of a young countess who was killed there during an airstrike in World War II, and comes to believe he is being haunted by her ghost.
This film seems to have an equal share of detractors and champions, and I fall in the latter camp, as I legitimately find it to be an engrossing psychological thriller that sometimes functions equally as strongly as a supernatural horror film. The demarcation between the two is what the film really bases itself upon--is the artist mad, or is there a ghostly nymphet haunting the property? This narrative device is old as time, but director Elio Petri manages to make it feel fresh, mainly due to the blurring that occurs between reality and fantasy.
As the film progresses, we are introduced to a variety of scenarios in which the tormented painter, Leonardo, has encounters and surreal visions that seem to meld with reality, to the point that the two become indistinguishable from one another--and I believe this was Petri's goal given the main theme at work. Even more startling is that the majority of these sequences occur in daylight, and still manage to be ominous and bizarre--the sprawling villa is atmospheric and lends an additional sense of unease. On numerous occasions throughout, I was reminded of the work of Robert Altman, particularly his more surreal endeavors such as "3 Women" or "Images," which have a similar DNA to "A Quiet Place in the Country." Its preoccupation with art and the histories of places also recalls its contemporary, "The House with the Laughing Windows," another film it predates.
"A Quiet Place in the Country" is perhaps most famous for its leading actors, Franco Nero (as the protagonist painter), and his real-life lover, Vanessa Redgrave, playing a gallery curator with whom he is having a love affair. Nero's portrayal of paranoia is solid, and Redgrave, though she mainly spends the film looking pretty or appearing in lingerie or nurse costumes (both in reality and in a variety of visions), handles the more dramatic material expertly. As the film reaches its climax, it leaves the audience with open-ended questions, though it seems to point us in a certain direction, and the final scene is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek jab that feels a bit at odds with the rest of the film.
That being said, "A Quiet Place in the Country" is still a solid exercise in unease that I found genuinely absorbing. It is not a perfect film, but it is a nightmarish meditation on madness and the supernatural that hits all the right notes. As it moves along, it weaves a spell that is truly bewitching. 8/10.
An underrated, nightmarish psychological thriller