by Sherif Awad
During the 31st Alexandria Film Festival that took place from the second until the eighth of September, European actor Lou Castel was invited to be given a tribute for his universal career and to be jury member of the long narrative films competition of the Mediterranean Countries. Although he is only 63 years-old, Castel, who is currently living in Paris, appears to be older and unrecognizable as the young rebel kid who used to play in his early career during the 1960s. I saw many films starring Lou Castel where he was playing the villain like Cassandra Crossing with Sofia Loren, The American Friend with Dennis Hopper and Man on Fire with Scott Glenn but never recognized him until we met.
Born Ulv Quarzéll in 1952, Bogota, Colombia, to a Swedish diplomat father and a British mother who worked as a tax officer on British boats, Lou Castel travelled with his two parents around the world during his childhood. He remembered that the first film that ever influenced him during his teenage years was the Italian surrealist Il cappotto (The Overcoat, 1952) by Alberto Lattuada, that was made the year of his birth. It was the story of a very poor city-hall clerk (Renato Rascel) whose only desire was to own a new overcoat. Later on, during his early teen, Lou’s mother got another job as one of the assistants of the great Italian director Federico Fellini. However, when he was eventually introduced to Fellini by his mother to consider him as an actor, the young man was more interested into film directing and so he decided to join the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Roma to study filmmaking. Unbeknownst to him, Italian writer-director Marco Bellocchio was already looking among the students for a new talent to lead his new film Fists in the Pocket (1965). It was a psychological drama about Alessandro, a young epileptic with paranoid inclinations, who decides to resolve the problems of his dysfunctional family by planning a dreadful series of murders that appears to the authorities as accidents. Bellocchio immediately cast Lou when he saw him expressing his anger when a camera accidentally ran out of battery during his training as a film student.
After the worldwide acclaim of his performance in Fists in the Pocket, the rebellious early 1960s allowed Lou Castel to go between extremes in terms of characters and so he was immediately cast in a the spaghetti western Bullet for the General (1966) playing El Niño, an American traveller who comes to Mexico as the Revolution begun and so he quickly finds himself in the middle between government troops and the revolutionaries.
Grazie zia (Thank You Aunt, 1968) by Salvatore Samperi marked the change in themes and genres in Italian cinema. Lou Castel was cast as a wheelchair-bound teenager, a nipote or a nephew, who is hopelessly infatuated with his aunt Lea played by the sensual Lisa Gastoni. However, when the film wrapped, the distributor who happened to be the boyfriend of the sexy Gastoni, decided to add a nude scene for her just to attract more audience. Castel, who had leftist believes, saw it a capitalist invasion of Italian cinema.
In the following decades, Castel worked with European directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Wim Wenders, Philippe Garrel, and Olivier Assayas. Though the quality of the films he acted was ranging from the arthouse to the pure commercials, Castel always chose roles that reflected his leftist beliefs. Until now, Lou Castel continues to work in European cinema and make appearances in international festivals whose curators are still remembering his classics.