Forgotten Films

The Hour of the Pig (1993)

When Parisian lawyer Richard Courtois (Colin Firth) relocates to a small town hoping to 'bring the law to the people' he expects to find cases involving property disputes and petty theft. Instead is strangling superstition, witchcraft and murder, and animals being tried for the crimes of man. All true occurrences in the era the film is set -- the fifteenth century (the film is based on the case reports of a real lawyer).

The trickiest defense case to run across Courtois' books is of a pig who has been accused of homicide -- the death of a local Jewish boy. It initially refuses to take it seriously until he slowly begins to realise that there is a conspiracy at play within the town and that the only way to shield himself is to defend the porker to the best of his ability.

It's a difficult film to categorize. From a Pythonesque opening in which a man and his horse are being hung together because they have shared ... relations ... to a dream sequence that follows in which two naked teenagers dressed at beasts are hunted through a field, the imagery throughout mixes Pasolini with Gilliam evoking the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, mixing apocalyptic visions with a somewhat realistic portrayal of medieval life.

It is also a quietly reflective and sinister film about how the fine lines between law and politics and religion is forever being crossed and how justice is never recognized independently, that it is the state's yardstick that in the end decides if someone is being tried fairly. It's also particularly pertinent in this time that when a group of Egyptian travelers enter the village they're treated with suspicion and the cause of ills that were already killing the place before they arrived.

But it's also extremely bawdy. In one scene when Colin has a particularly erotic dream about the seductive Gypsy owner of the pig, he wakes up with a morning glory only to find the inn girl cleaning his room - she takes one look at him and gleefully strips off saying 'Waste not, want not...' Fans of Mr Firth might also like to know that he spends the film either bathing naked or in a silly hat, and some occasions both.

Performances are lovely across the board, the highlights being Ian Holme's randy but thoughtful priest, Donald Pleasence tired old prosecutor and Nicol Williamson's shifty mayor. There's also Lysette Anthony's daft as a brush maid of the manor gamely parodying all the princess roles she'd played earlier in her career. As her character's father suggests: "I know she brays like a she-ass, but she's got good, sweaty flesh on her."

Careful which version of the film you dig out though. The version I have is the VHS release from 1995, timed to cash in on Firth's success in Pride and Prejudice; that version isn't out in the uk now but there is a Region One dvd knocking around which has been renamed The Advocate and has apparently had about fifteen minutes trimmed from it - all of the sex and nudity and violence - which kind of makes the exercise a bit pointless and unfunny and I'm sure nullifies the film's thematic elements too.


Anonymous said...

One of my favourite films, for sheer oddness alone.

Tempestuous Tulip said...

Psychic moment! This would have been the film I suggested for your series if I'd actually gotten around to doing so. What a great, strange, movie this is -- I still think of that ending scene and shiver a little. The DVD release I've seen (US release, indeed renamed The Advocate) has plenty going on in the way of salty sensuality, so I'm really intrigued by the missing 15 minutes!

Stuart Ian Burns said...

I'm intrigued to see what they left out -- I'm tempted to get the dvd just to see what was trimmed.