Buffalo '66

Buffalo '66 ★★★★★

91/100

Like Zonca's Julia, an improbable triumph in a "genre" I normally despise—here, the sensitive man-child who's saved/redeemed by the unconditional love of a fantasy babe. Both films push their noxious idea to an extreme that's at once comical and disturbing, demanding empathy for a nearly irredeemable protagonist; Gallo opens with a photo of Billy at age seven ("with his dog Bingo"), then proceeds to play the role as if still trapped at that age, with all of a child's destructive narcissism and no cuteness whatsoever. Ultimately, it's Ricci's miraculous performance that makes it work, beginning with the almost preternatural stillness of her extended close-up in the car, as she simply listens to Billy's insane request without making the slightest effort to suggest a plausible emotional response. (I wrote an entire essay on the bowling-alley tap dance, which is the point at which I accept Layla as a sort of fairy and stop fretting about her as a woman.) But credit to Gallo-the-actor, too, for making Billy such a seething ball of reflexive hostility (whether you find this funny largely determines your reaction to the movie, I suspect) that his joyful enthusiasm in the final scenes creates the impression of the sun finally breaking through Buffalo's drab, gray climate. Gallo-the-director, meanwhile, makes one of the most stunning debuts of all time, demonstrating instinctive mastery of more cinematic tools than I can count: color and its absence, movement across multiple axes (look at the first shot of Layla in the dance studio—absolutely goddamn stunning), disorienting jump cuts ("the bathroom's closed, sir"), perfectly balanced compositions, expressionistic lighting, contrapuntal use of music, on and on. Huston and Gazzara play the parents a little too broadly at times (even given that we're seeing Billy's distorted view of them), and I could do without the big-dick bit (which I now recognize as part of Gallo's overall project, but it still seems out of place here). Those are quibbles, though, whereas if you described the film to me I'd expect convulsions. Still one of the great UFOs of my filmgoing life.