Sog.: Michael Cimino, Deric Washburn, Louis Garfinkle, Quinn K. Redeker. Scen.: Deric Washburn. F.: Vilmos Zsigmond. M.: Peter Zinner. Scgf.: Ron Hobbs, Kim Swados. Mus.: Stanley Myers. Int.: Robert De Niro (Michael Vronsky), John Cazale (Stan), John Savage, (Steven), Meryl Streep (Linda), Christopher Walken (Nick), George Dzundza (John), Shirley Stoler (la madre di Steven), Chuck Aspegren (Axel), Rutanya Alda (Angela), Pierre Segui (Julien). Prod.: Michael Cimino, Michael Deeley, John Peverall, Barry Spikings per EMI, Universal. DCP. D.: 183’. Col.
The Deer Hunter is three hours long. The war in Vietnam occupies the central (and shortest) part of the film, as well as a chapter towards the end, taking the form of a hallucinated apocalypse. In recent times, only Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron can bear comparison to the visionary power, the unbearable horror and the disturbing dreamlike qualities of these sequences depicting war as hell and as a carnival of death. Cimino’s film is located along a line of expressionism, which in American cinema begins with Sternberg (the reference to the director of Anatahan becomes inevitable in the scenes set in Saigon), passes through Welles – and then, why not?, Losey’s English period – and arrives at Peckinpah and the Coppola of The Godfather Part II.
Even the narrative construction – alternating between expansion and compression of narrative time, between prolonged hesitations and lightning glimpses – is on this line. This explains the insistence on the wedding ceremony and festivities, set within the framework of a Russian-American community, which takes up so much of the first part of the film. It’s the same approach used by Visconti in the unending dance sequence in Il Gattopardo, and it plays a similar expressive function: a world of constituted values that will be swept away, overturned, corrupted by war.
Those who accuse The Deer Hunter of being a politically reactionary film because it depicts atrocities committed by the Viet Cong, have blindly failed to understand anything. They have not understood that Cimino and screenwriter Deric Washburn oppose the war in Vietnam from an ethical position, not a political one. And yet the obsessive insistence on the idea of Russian Roulette should be enough to open the eyes of even the most obtuse mind: it is a metaphor on war – on that war -, erasing the line that separates reason from madness, bravery from savagery, friend from enemy.
It is more difficult, however, to interpret the deer hunting in two parallel sequences at the beginning and at the end of the film, immersed in wonderfully figurative imagery (with Panavision photography by Vilmos Szigmond), in juxtaposition to the inferno of Vietnam and the eery chaos of Saigon. It took an extraordinary moral and artistic courage to end this tragic saga of fury and madness, with that chorus of God Bless America. In a cast of actors superbly directed by Cimino, there are John Cazale, who tragically died shortly after filming was completed, in the role of Stan, the friend with the revolver and a De Niro at his very best.
Morando Morandini, “Il Giorno”, 1979