Equal parts Antonio Gramsci and Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Dillinger is Dead (1969) is cultural critique masquerading as a one-man show. Michel Piccoli plays Glauco, with his forehead mostly: the fleeting pleasures of food and gadgetry are registered in satisfied wrinkles, though the slack glaze of boredom is never far off. The film opens with Glauco touring a factory using a gas mask of his design. In case we somehow miss this as a marker of alienation, the factory guide waxes Society of the Spectacle: "The introjections of these obsessive, hallucinatory needs do not produce an adaptation to reality, but mimesis, standardization: the cancellation of individuality."
Subtly may not be Italian auteur Marco Ferreri's strong suit, but he achieves a weirdly frantic stasis once Dillinger settles in to Glauco's chintzy bourgeois palace, a masterpiece of set design. Glauco tucks in his lolling girlfriend (Rolling Stones ingénue Anita Pallenberg, mostly naked here), snivels at the meal she's left him and gets to cooking. Looking for something in the closet, he finds an old gun wrapped in a newspaper covering John Dillinger's death. The film's unforthcoming slowness reaches its apotheosis as he painstakingly cleans the revolver, keeping a close eye on the sauce.
Not satiated by his feast for one (Ferreri would later direct 1973's La Grande Bouffe, a film about four men eating themselves to death), Glauco licks honey off the maid's bare back, gives his firearm a Pop Art makeover, and finally endeavors to see if it still goes bang. Ferreri's listless deadpan can't help but pale after countless Coen brothers knockoffs, but Dillinger is saved from obsolescence by its prescient observations of technology's ascendance in the domestic sphere. Glauco is ever fiddling with a machine, at one point documenting his sleeping wife with a tape recorder (this guy would be a nightmare with an iPhone).
All this mechanical action has a masturbatory quality to it, especially when Glauco watches his Super 8 home movies. He greedily reaches out for the breasts of a woman he's filmed and tries to swim in a projection of the sea (a significant image given the film's nautical conclusion). When a halved watermelon broaches sex, viewers may wonder if Tsai Ming-Liang knew of Dillinger before making The Wayward Cloud (2005). This fleshy interlude is the closest thing to life in Ferreri's film; even murder, it seems, cannot bring these people back from the dead.
DILLINGER IS DEAD
Thurs/11Sat/13, 7:30 p.m.; Sun/14, 2 p.m., $8$10
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org