If someone had asked if you were Interested in seeing a murder thriller set in a high tech chicken factory, what would you say? This is the central location for Death Laid An Egg (1968)a high art drama art in modern Italy of the late 60’s. This is the theme running through this whole film, chickens, chicken farming and genetic experiments with chicken eggs and chickens. Before you wonder, yes this is supposedly a Giallo film of sorts (it does have murders) and yes their is a distinctive European feel to this movie, with at strong European cast led by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Gina Lollobrigida. Director Giulio Questi often surreal film is a darkly psychological decent into a beugiour lifestyle of a married couple who’s successful chicken farming business hides deceit, anger and jealousy all wrapped in a idcllic middle class lifestyle of self made millionaires. Trintignant is married to Lollobrigida but has feelings for her cousin played by Ewa Aulin. The film itself has been mistakenly labelled a Giallo, though Questi has stated the main reason for this was that Italian television would often cut down films to fill in ninety minutes slots, so Death Laid An Egg suffered the fate of being cut down, with much of the storyline disappearing and only the scenes of murder and violence kept in, making it strangely another film entirely. Over time and the advent of DVD and now BluRay, this film has had the good fortune of being released uncut to a more appreciative audience and to fans of Questi’s work.
I first watched Death Laid An Egg on a Japanese DVD way back in 2003 and really enjoyed it. As it was uncut and I had not seen any truncated versions of the film I was very impressed at how it was not a true Giallo but a hybrid mix of social satire, political mechanics, relationship inadequacies and a few murders along the way. Questi, besides being a director of some interesting Italian genre films, was also a fine artist who enjoyed his painting, which explains his somewhat surreal imagery in many of his films. from the backward editing of men being killed in Django, Kill! (reviewed here) to the close up of chickens eyes as they witness a potential murder in Death Laid An Egg. Questi’s eye for the unusual and his need to play with stereotypes is very much apparent. To cast well known actors like Trintignant and Lolabrigida in the roles of husband and wife works well, wether they realised what type of film they were playing in might have yielded another cinematic story.
The nucleus of the film has at its heart a troubled three way relationship as Trintignant and Lollobrigida have a strained marriage which is leading his character to have an affair with Aulin’s character Against this backdrop is the couples very successful chicken factory which produces many eggs and poultry for commercial consumption. The company is part of a group of companies pushing for chickens to be a standard part of the country’s food consumption. With that the companies are pushing for more productivity the couples company uses it’s scientific resources to produced genetically modified chickens (how modern!) to cover the demand of their customers. In one quite unnerving scene, a scientist proudly shows off his latest creation, a headless chicken with no legs but a huge plump body, perfect for mass production, but truly horrific to look at.
Questi has assembled his film almost impressionistically. The film is, in fact, at its best when it allows itself to go fully into avant garde territory capitalising on the directors artistic background. Anyone who’s ever spent much time dealing with chickens will recognize the sheer quirkiness about them as captured here. That austere and alien quality permeates the whole of the film, including its rather deranged plot. Bruno Maderna’s wild score is equally disorientating, ranging from folk to percussive guitar and piano all adding to Questi’s warped approach to it in its distorted openness, validate Death Laid an Egg as the cinematic anomaly it’s come to be remembered to be. Whether it giallo or no).