directed by Enzo G. Castellari

starring Franco Nero, Olga Karlatos

In the mid-1970s after the Italian western cycle had degenerated into self parody and nearly vanished, its influence started to be felt in the United States in the main from Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood so Italian filmmakers tacked on an epilogue to the cycle that was inspired by the American take on Spaghetti westerns. One of the best of these is Keoma, a film that manages to stand out among an endless desert of forgettable formula films and Segio Leone clones.

Half Indian Keoma (Franco Nero) returns home after a long absence to find his town suffering under the boot of strong man Caldwell and his gang. There is a plague in the area and Caldwell is sending all the victims away from town and to an abandoned mine and not allowing any treatment. Keoma saves the pregnant Liza (Olga Karlatos, Purple Rain) from this fate and returns with her to town. His act of kindness is not viewed favorably by the powers that be. He teams with his adoptive father and his childhood mentor and hero, a former slave played by Woody Strode, to go against Caldwell and his own half brothers.

Director Enzo G. Castellari making Keoma at the end of the European western cycle is freed from the expectations of the standard genre conventions and is allowed to set his imagination free. He deploys thick atmosphere to not only hide budgetary limitations but also to create an otherworldly mythos. Castellari doesn’t really shy away from the fantastic as there is a character billed as the witch and has his lead character essentially crucified and reborn for the climax. There are sequences of the film that are right out of a ghost story or horror movie. The compositions in the film a marvelously complex, filling the screen with action in single frames instead of an over use of cutting. Every shot is so carefully planned and crafted it is a joy to watch. He also deploys an unorthodox technique showing current time and flashback within the same scene so past and present merge. So characters in present time see their earlier selves interact on screen. It is a jarring and effective technique to help illustrate the existential crisis of Keoma as a man haunted by his past but with no future forced to live just for the present.

Arrow Video’s Blu-Ray of Keoma features a 2k restoration from the original 35mm camera negative and crisp uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio. Italian and English versions of the film are included. The extras on the disc make Keoma a must-buy. Audio commentary from C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke and Keoma and the Twilight of the Spaghetti Western a video essay on the movie by critic Austin Fisher are the jewels of the package, along with cast and crew interviews.

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