Blu-Review: Cemetery Without Crosses (Robert Hossein, 1969) – Arrow Video

by Jason Suzuki

When you think of spaghetti westerns, or at least The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly which director/star Robert Hossein has said Leone is one of the inspirations for Cemetery without Crosses and even dedicates his film to him, you think of something operatic in both story and presentation, the classic example being the Mexican standoff at the film’s climax; with a rhythm of close ups of eyes that slowly escalates. What stands out the most in Cemetery without Crosses however is its silence. It lacks a reliance on dialogue and surprisingly lacks a reliance on a score for the most part. Instead, specific sounds are foleyed so that they stand out in the sparse soundtrack. It gives the film’s world a more morose quality, where the tension of battling looks has more emotional weight than what even the seconds before a shootout can do. One exemplary scenes to showcase the film’s unique use of the stare is a dinner scene in which Manuel (Hossein) has infiltrated the family that killed his brother at the behest of his sister in law (Michèle Mercier), and is now sitting down to dinner with the enemy, a family of thugs. This scene should be what you show in the classroom when you cover the eye-line match. The glances of one character lead us to another character and so on until we’ve made multiple trips around the dinner table.

But beyond the quiet and the stares, we have here a brutal tale of revenge. A defeatist mood carries through the film, Michèle Mercier’s widowing Maria is not concerned with money like her brothers were but merely wants her husband to have a proper burial and will do whatever it takes for that to happen and suffer through whatever the consequences may be. Our two protagonists barely allow warmth to creep in, but when they allow the two brothers to have their way with the kidnapped daughter of the Rogers family, they stand outside staring at each other while they let their guilt settle in. It’s one of the best moments in the entire film, the only voice heard is a lone cry from the Rogers daughter and made all the more intense when we see that despite their guilt, Manuel and Maria allow the brothers to carry on. Just from the title we know that every character has went in too deep, and we get to watch everyone sink.

The supplements Arrow Video has included on their release of Cemetery without Crosses, which is another dual US/UK release include both and archive and a new interview with Hossein, the more recent one focusing more on how he knew Leone. Also a French television news report on the making of the film lets us see more Hossein being interviewed but also some of his costars including Michèle Mercier. Compared to other releases there aren’t very many extras here and the ones there are rather short and feel like they could have been expanded, especially the new interview with Hossein. Still, the film is so damn good it’s good enough it’s been given this sort of treatment. It’s all housed on a BD50, the film itself being restored in 2K by Arrow Video from original film elements. The original Italian and English mono tracks are both included to give you and excuse to watch at least twice and with both friends who read and don’t read subtitles. This, along with Day of Anger, show that Arrow Video has great taste when it comes to westerns that are overall fun and different.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.