A Stray Bit of Bad Information

Before I had ever seen Pupi Avati’s “Zeder,” I read a précis of the film’s plot stating that the film’s hero receives as a gift an old typewriter, which had belonged to one Paolo Zeder, a mysterious scientist/mystic who had vanished years before. He makes the mistake of transcribing the traces of text remaining on the ribbon and that sets the dark plot in motion. Fair enough.

Now let’s fast forward to when I’m actually watching the film. It opens with an atmospheric prologue set in Chartres, France in the 1950s. Researchers who appear to be engaged in some sort of paranormal activity discover Zeder’s makeshift grave in the cellar of an old house. He’s been there for years, thus the mystery of his disappearance is solved.

We move to present-day Bologna where the hero, a struggling writer, is receiving a surprise birthday gift from his wife. It’s a typewriter. But hold up a minute–it’s one of those big, box-like 1960s electric typewriters. And it belonged to Paolo Zeder? Whose moldering corpse had been unearthed in the mid-1950s after lying undisturbed for years? What was he? A time-traveler?

Well, no, he wasn’t. And the typewriter wasn’t his either. As we learn from following the twists-and-turns of Avati’s plot, the typewriter belonged to a schismatic priest who left the Church when he was diagnosed with an incurable cancer to pursue Zeder’s wild dream of life-beyond-death. Now what seemed like a case of the producers being unable to locate a vintage 1920s or 1930s typewriter becomes a strong plot point. The identification of the author of an anonymous report on a mysterious “K-Zone” allows the hero and his increasingly reluctant wife to pursue an investigation into the fate of this renegade priest. What they uncover becomes the plot of this hybrid conspiracy thriller/supernatural horror film, one the best to come out of Italy in the 1980s. (Although for those who may have seen it, the Italian poster to the film gives away one of its big reveals.)

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