The themes of postindustrial alienation guiding Dillinger Is Dead are read to protagonist Michel Piccoli, and to us, in the film’s first sequence, by one of Piccoli’s coworkers in a gas mask factory; earnest and pedantic, they’re a double clue: not only is man poisoned by his atmosphere, but he’s run out of ideas. Even methods of escape are unoriginal.
Piccoli drives home, to the strains of the late-60s adult-contempo station that provides the movie with its swoonily kitschy soundtrack. His home is extravagant with pop-art accoutrements and a stone Mediterranean-style kitchen; his blonde commodity wife (Anita Pallenberg) is tranquilized in the bedroom. And for most of Dillinger is Dead, we mostly watch a man at lose ends in his own hose, with lots of toys, from all media, that he’s mostly bored of playing with.
Ferreri and Piccoli, seemingly on the save wavelength, have a great feel for the sense of silly anticlimax that pervades a man at home, alone, at loose ends: often wandering around in his boxer shorts, Piccoli picks a recipe at random, hums along to the radio, tickles his sleeping wife, clowns along with the home movies (bullfighting, beaches, projected across his living room wall), and fiddles with his new toy, found stowed in a closet: a gun wrapped in newspapers announcing Dillinger‘s death. He cleans it, paints it, plays with it, fiddles around with it; he’s not an outlaw, even with this method of escape granted to him by a plot device ex machina — he’s just looking for something to do, and comes up with mostly secondhand, inevitable ideas.
Dillinger Is Dead, then, is a wryly slowed-down anti-narrative funhouse-mirroring of its own genre, right up until an ending that, in its arbitrary easiness and feeling of quotation (Byron is invoked), seems to parody bourgeois escape fantasies. Give or take, of course, some surrealist flourish, throwaway gags, perhaps-not-entirely-ironic female flesh, and retro design (and soundtrack) much less stultifying than it would have seemed at the time.
At BAM through Thursday. Good luck finding it on tape or disc in the foreseeable future.