The Delphine Seyrig Project – Muriel, or The Time Of Return

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Delphine Seyrig in “Muriel, or The Time Of Return.” credit: themoviedb.org

Delphine Seyrig was thirty years old when she shot Muriel, or The Time Of Return (Muriel Ou Le Temps D’Un Retour) (France, 1963), working once again for director Alain Resnais. Donning a mouse-brown wig webbed with strands of silvery-gray and an ever-so-slightly-oversized wardrobe, Delphine portrays a woman, Hélène Aughain, who is at least twelve years older than she herself. But there’s one quick scene early in the film with her beloved stepson Bernard (Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée), one expression on her face, that radiates both her loving concern for him and the pain of leaving herself vulnerable to his mercurial eccentricities. An enormous amount of emotional history is expressed in that one quick reaction, that split-second shot, and Delphine’s astonishing command of the depth and maturity of her character is established as bedrock. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.

Which turns out to be exactly what Resnais’ film will sink or swim on. Hélène Aughain is a furnishings dealer – she uses her own apartment as her shop, and lives with the tables, chairs, sofas, bedsteads and accessories that make up her stock, and her home. Hélène is a widower – she married her late husband Gérard during the war, taking on his son from his previous marriage, Bernard. The details of Gérard’s passing aren’t shared, but Hélène’s devotion to Bernard is obvious, especially as he’s just returned from a military stint in the French-Algerian War.

As the film begins, we learn that Hélène has corresponded with, and invited for a visit, an old lover of hers, Alphonse Noyard (Jean-Pierre Kérien).  She’d had a pre-war affair with him, but he ended it abruptly. Hélène and Bernard prepare to leave the apartment – she to meet Alphonse’s train, and he to visit his girlfriend Muriel. Hélène rushes a customer out of the apartment while Bernard makes himself a café, and Resnais scrambles, overlaps and fractures both the images and the sound to create, in us, the sense of anxiety the characters are experiencing.

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Delphine Seyrig and Jean-Pierre Kérien in “Muriel, or The Time Of Return.” credit: nnm.me

The next long sequence of the film describes Alphonse’s arrival and Hélène’s efforts to welcome him into her home. A tall, seemingly elegant silver-haired man, Alphonse is accompanied by Françoise (Nita Klein), whom he introduces as his niece, the daughter of a deceased sister. Hélène walks them from the train station café through downtown Boulogne-Sur-Mer to the apartment building. The flat is clearly smaller and dowdier than Alphonse might have preferred, but he defers to Hélène’s eagerness to be a gracious host. While she serves cocktails and prepares dinner, Bernard returns. Alphonse explains that he’d spent years in Algeria running a very exclusive club on the outskirts of Algiers, but the war necessitated his return to Paris. He’s interested in Bernard’s service, but Bernard is far more interested in pulling small pranks and exasperating Mom. But he and Françoise seem to hit it off, and they go out on their own after dinner, leaving Hélène and Alphonse to reconnect and recollect.

This whole early sequence has a narrative through-line and cohesiveness, yet Resnais’ fashioning of the events is a slower-motion version of the film’s opening array of scattershot images and dialogue. Their walk through downtown contains both present-nighttime backgrounds and inserted daytime shots of the city, and Resnais interrupts their movement with quick close-ups of each of the three. Hélène says she’s bought chicken chasseur with mushrooms for dinner – “He loves sausage, you know, especially salami!” declares Françoise – yet later Hélène regrets they haven’t touched the fennel and red cabbage. “I’ve gone and lost my keys again!” she exclaims, apropos of nothing. The ongoing conversations have a patchwork quality, mixing earnestly related anecdotes with curious non-sequiturs. “I’d like to see you eat lemons,” Bernard confides to Françoise. “My lips are made for that,” she forthrightly replies. Alphonse’s meagre stabs at expressing affection to Hélène are ignored or diverted until Bernard and Françoise leave – they share some personal history, some intimacy, but at the first hint of conflict, Hélène announces she has to go out. And, indeed, despite her own invitation to Alphonse, she’s already arranged the rest of the night out with her close friend Roland de Smoke (Claude Sainval), a contractor avidly familiar with Boulogne-Sur-Mer’s ongoing efforts to rebuild itself post-war – much like Hélène and Alphonse’s awkward aspirations for themselves.

And Bernard’s, as well. He’s haunted by his service in Algeria. He served with another man from Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Robert (Philippe Laudenbach), who seems to have successfully moved on from those experiences back into the real world. But Bernard, and Robert, participated in the interrogation, torture and death of a young Algerian woman. She gave her name as Muriel – ironically, Bernard never believed (believes) that was her real name. Nonetheless, “Muriel” is the name he’s given to the entity in his brain, the memory he can’t expunge or grow past, the act he’ll never forgive himself for, even though he searches for the next thing to move on to, the next thing in his life he’ll value, the next person whose love will displace his shame.

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Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée in “Muriel, or The Time Of Return .” credit: dvdclassik.com

This is another Alain Resnais film about history, and memory, and the realities we construct based on those remembered resources, whether they’re reliably true or altered to suit our larger, sometimes unconscious, purposes. Here there are characters of genuine integrity and honesty who find themselves overwhelmed with despair nonetheless, and characters who routinely dispense lies and betrayal as another kind of defensive, yet practical, survival mechanism. Resnais isn’t purposefully making things hard on the audience with editing tricks and narrative incongruities. He’s expressing, with film, across a period of time, how people just like us live day-to-day, and find reasons to like themselves, and find ways to solve recalcitrant recurring problems in their lives – that’s a disconcertingly simultaneous process if you’re not in the middle of it, or if you’re trying to express it to others. Boulogne-Sur-Mer is a sleepy northern French port, but inhabited by people who had two World Wars in their own backyard, and then, twenty years later, had to assess their own feelings about making war on French citizens, Algerian French citizens, who inexplicably wanted their independence from what seemed to be France’s benevolent hand.

We must decide for ourselves whether Hélène is a hopeful or futile figure in looking for love and a secure future. Alphonse is earnestly looking for the same things, but employs far different methods. Bernard tells Mom he’s visiting “Muriel,” but he’s actually seeing the very sweet Marie-Dominique (Martine Vatel) – dare we honestly hope that he can be saved by the love of a good woman? It all sounds like prosaic fodder for potboilers and soap operas, but this film is one of the touchstones for why stories like this are important in the first place. Hélène (Delphine) is an unreliable protagonist and narrator, saddled with debt, a problem with gambling and perhaps continually ignoring the one man in the film who genuinely loves her. Yet she’s (Delphine’s) the compass that grounds us in the flurry of Resnais’ insistent fragments of narrative. It’s she who, however flawed, sets the moral tone by which we measure the other characters, and we ache and lament with her, as a kindred soul, as we worry, with her, that things might not work out. Again.

 

 

The Giallo Project – Assorted 1972 Pt. 1

After the earlier successes of Argento, Mario Bava, Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci, every working journeyman director employed by every mainstream producer in Italy was expected to try their hand at the giallo, with predictably chequered results. I’m as delighted by diamonds in the rough as most viewers, but the happy surprises are few and far between among most of these one-off efforts.

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Farley Granger in “So Sweet, So Dead .” credit: gentedirispetto.com

One of the less enthusiastic efforts was turned in by Roberto Bianchi Montero: So Sweet, So Dead (Rivelazioni Di Un Maniaco Sessuale Al Capo Della Squadra Mobile, or Revelations of a Sexual Maniac to the Head of the Mobile [Police] Team) (Italy, 1972). It’s capably shot, technically proficient, and the narrative is clearly presented, but there’s little if any stylistic effort or distinguishing flavor of any kind. Farley Granger had been working in Europe for a bit – from Hitchcock and Visconti on the high side, to projects like this otherwise – an honest working actor – and stars here as Inspector Capuano, a semi-retired detective who has transferred from the big city to a small-but-posh provincial Italian town, and has been assigned to the kind of crime he’d thought he left behind; a serial murder case where the victims are the unfaithful wives of rich, well-connected men – lawyers, industrialists, retired military. The crime scenes are littered with in flagrante delicto photos, courtesy of the killer; the men’s’ faces in the photos, however, are obscured, scraped away. Why would the killer punish her but protect him? A procession of capable Italian genre actresses (Femi Benussi, Susan Scott, Krista Nell, Annabella Incontrera, Sylva Koscina) meet their demise at the knife-wielding hand of yet another fedora-and-trench-coat-wearing, stocking-masked mystery killer.

The ingredients for a quite lurid, suspenseful and engaging giallo thriller are all here, but Montero’s just not up to making that film with these resources. Instead we’re led through a pretty formulaic plot (with the usual doses of female nudity, red herrings, and a pretty standard-issue antagonist) that veers to outright nasty when one of the husbands lies back in wait to allow the killing of his own (unfaithful) wife. Two birds, one stone…? Watchable for completists, but I was genuinely disappointed here.

 

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Doris Kunstmann and Jane Birkin in “Seven Deaths In The Cat’s Eyes.” credit: peanutbutterandgialli.wordpress.com

Italian veteran Antonio Margheriti (billed here as Anthony M. Dawson, his usual nom d’Americano) has far more entertaining fun with Seven Deaths In The Cat’s Eyes (La Morte Negli Occhi Del Gatto) (Italy, 1972). A pretty rigorous mash-up of Hammer Studios-league gothic horror, Agatha Christie-class murder mystery and trademark giallo moral ambiguities and body-counts, the film is a little light on visceral sex and gore for the trash aficionados, but does just fine as a genuinely involving popcorn murder thriller for other adults.

In a stately old castle in Scotland, the MacGrieff clan ancestral home of Dragonstone – fog-bound, lavishly furnished, and accessorized with secret passageways and a giant creepy subterranean chamber – two sisters debate whether to sell the place or to keep preserving the history of the MacGrieff family, warts, real estate, supernatural legends and all. Its current resident, Lady Mary (Françoise Christophe) wants to provide a stable environment for her mentally questionable son James (Hiram Keller) – Lord James, mind you – but the expenses are catching up. James’ “therapist,” Dr. Franz (veteran scoundrel Anton Diffring) (who bedded Lady Mary soon after arriving) and his “French teacher”, Suzanne (the fetching Doris Kunstmann) (whom Lady Mary fervently hopes will cure James of what ails him by other, more intimate, means) both cost a lot of money. Lady Alicia (Dana Ghia) is the sadder but wiser sister who implores Mary to cut her losses, bring James to London and move on. And then who should appear but Alicia’s daughter and Mary’s niece Corringa (Jane Birkin) – she’s made good her escape from her stultifying girl’s boarding school, and has come to crash at Dragonstone with Mom and Aunt Mary. Her freewheeling arrival presents a whole host of opportunities and intrigues, both constructive and underhanded, for all of our other players.

Only a few of our cast are in line to inherit the supposedly valuable MacGrieff estate, and, besides Lady Mary, they don’t seem all that keen on having any part of it. But someone starts murdering the castle’s occupants nonetheless. Add the local coachman, the loyal housekeeping couple and a friendly neighborhood priest to the available suspects and/or victims, and off we go. The murderer, by the way, is tough to figure out but refreshingly logical when revealed.

Margheriti co-writes and spins a terrific mainstream thriller, featuring great visuals from Carlo Carlini (who also shot the notable Bloodstained Butterfly) and a lush musical score from Riz Ortolani. Serge Gainsbourg, Birkin’s longtime boyfriend, makes a cameo appearance as an investigating detective, but he’s peripheral, as are most giallo policemen. I recommend this one!

 

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Edwige Fenech in “The Case Of The Bloody Iris.” credit: houseoffreudstein.wordpress.com

The prolific giallo screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi wrote our next offering, The Case Of The Bloody Iris (a far more efficient title than the original Italian, Perché Quelle Strane Gocce Di Sangue Sul Corpo di Jennifer? [Why Are Those Strange Drops Of Blood On Jennifer’s Body?]) (Italy, 1972). His scripts were done proper justice by directors like Luciano Ercoli (Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion) and Sergio Martino (Strange Vice…, Colors Of The Dark, Torso), whom we’ve explored previously. This film was co-produced by Sergio’s brother Luciano, but was directed by journeyman Giuliano Carmineo, who specialized in westerns; it’s not too speculative, I think, to assume Carmineo was plugged in to this project when Sergio either passed on it or left for other reasons. Not even the presence of Edwige Fenech and George Hilton, and one of Bruno Nicolai’s better soundtracks can really make up for Carmineo’s storytelling shortcomings.

Much of the film occurs in an apartment building shared by many of the characters. A beautiful woman keeping an appointment is murdered in the elevator in broad daylight. Another woman, the dancer/entertainer Mizar (Carla Brait), is ambushed in her flat a day or two later. The building’s real-estate developer, Andrea (George Hilton), consults his fashion photographer friend Arthur on using models for marketing and promotion, meets Jennifer (Edwige Fenech) and Marilyn (Paola Quattrini) through him, and then lets out the late Mizar’s apartment to them. Jennifer is also being stalked by a sex-cult leader (Ben Carra) she followed briefly, then threw over. No repercussions there, right…?! The other interactions in the building just introduce us to the potential killer and/or victims – the seductive Sheila (Annabella Incontrera) and her violin-playing father Professor Isaacs (George Rigaud), and mean-old-lady Mrs. Moss (Maria Tedeschi) and her mysterious secret son. There’s a pretty disturbing M.O. at work when the killer is revealed, but Carmineo just cruises through any deeper implications.

Like So Sweet, So Dead, the script is willing but the artistry’s weak. Emulating Argento, Carmineo lets his characters indulge their scripted eccentricities, especially the entertaining police inspector (Giampiero Albertini) and his assistant (Franco Agostini), and the aforementioned photographer (Oreste Lionello). Paola Quattrini is very good, and has lots of dark fun with Marilyn; she primarily worked in TV, as did Albertini – it would have been nice to have seen more of their work.

“… capably shot, technically proficient, and the narrative is clearly presented” describes a lot of the deluge of giallo films in 1972; it’s just too bad that Case Of The Bloody Iris, built on a promising conceptual foundation, falls so far short.

 

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Anthony Steffan and Anita Strindberg in “Tropic Of Cancer.” credit: wipfilms.net

Some directors just followed the urban thriller template for giallos to frequently uneventful effect. On the other hand, Antonio Margheriti successfully transplanted the giallo aesthetic to an earlier gothic horror milieu – much like his own black-and-white sixties classics The Virgin Of Nuremburg or Barbara Steele’s Castle Of Blood. Writers Edoardo Mulargia, Giampaolo Lomi and the actor Anthony Steffen took a shot at combining the giallo with the cultural exoticism of Haiti and a dash of voodoo to create Tropic Of Cancer (Al Tropico Del Cancro) (Italy, 1972). Lomi was in Haiti previously shooting the mondo-style re-enactment documentary Goodbye, Uncle Tom, and still had enough favors and resources to knock this film out as well. The ideas are pretty good, but the script that carries the promising narrative is a train wreck.

Steffen plays Dr. Williams (no first name necessary), a doctor, biologist, chemist and all-around good guy whom the locals seem to like having around. He could work at fancy American hospitals, or for hifalutin’ pharmaceutical corporations, but his place is here, serving these simple but fascinating island folk in underequipped hospitals and shantytowns. Fred and Grace Wright (Gabriele Tinti and Anita Strindberg) have ostensibly come to Port-Au-Prince to get away from it all and try to rekindle their marriage, but Fred is also looking forward to looking up his old acquaintance Williams as well. Williams meets them at their hotel, and agrees to take them to a truly impressive, if unsettling, Haitian voodoo ritual. Admirably, his explanations are fairly spot-on: Haitian voodoo has evolved as much as a direct refutation of European colonial Catholicism as it has as a standalone religion derived from other West Indian forms of voodoo. The whole undercurrent of religious ecstasy and fertility-worship is rich territory here, and Grace, especially, is caught up in it.

Meanwhile, Dr. Williams’ research assistants seem to be disappearing, and some tough and sleazy business-types from the east coast (American) are pushing people around and taking a greedy interest in Williams. Mr. Peacock (Gordon Felio) is the androgynous Sidney Greenstreet-style wheeler and dealer who acts as Williams’ “agent”; we come to learn from his dealings that Williams’ “research“ has created a powerful new hallucinogenic drug, and, thanks to his big-mouth assistants, all sorts of willing potential distributors are appearing whether Williams likes it or not.

So, while Williams is showing Fred and Grace the sights, various competitors are bumping each other off. But which of these murderous entrepreneurs is successfully killing off the others? Meanwhile, Grace gets a bouquet of druggy flowers that triggers a pretty racy and surreal dream sequence, and she’s then saved by Williams, who has taken a liking to her while her husband grows more distant. Anita Strindberg is well-known for her body-baring proclivities, but she’s an extraordinarily camera-friendly presence who can genuinely act, even when given next-to-nothing to work with. Anthony Steffan as Williams, on the other hand, goes through the narrative motions but is oddly detached; this was his schtick in The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave as well, but his character’s mental illness there justified that… I think. Here he just looks coked up, as does co-star Gabriele Tinti, who is a bit more speedy-aggro than his character really calls for. Oh, well, as long as they were having fun… Recommended only for Anita Strindberg completists – the other novelties of the film just aren’t enough to overcome the general tawdriness.

 

 

 

 

2018 Chicago Int’l Film Festival Pt. 2

The 54th Chicago International Film Festival runs from October 10th to October 23rd. All screenings are at the AMC River East theaters at 322 E. Illinois St. in downtown Chicago.

 

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Stepan Devonin in “Core Of The World.”

The original Russian title of Core Of The World (Russia/Lithuania, 2018) is Serdtse Mira, which could also translate to ‘Heart Of The World’ or ‘Center Of The World.’ Here it refers to a remote rural farm where our protagonist, Egor (Stepan Devonin), serves as veterinarian and caretaker to a facility for dogs being trained as hunting dogs. The farm’s been run by Dmitriy (Dmitriy Podnozov) for years, along with his wife Nina and single-mom daughter Dasha – Ivan, her son, is around 8 or 9. Egor does well for himself with the family, is seriously devoted to the work and sincerely loves the menagerie of dogs, foxes, reindeer, badgers and the seldom-seen skunk in his care. One of their favorite younger dogs has been mauled by dogs he never should have gone near – the businesslike Dmitriy wants to just put it down, but Egor takes the seemingly hopeless Belka as an ardent rehab project. The farm also starts receiving occasional visits – from animal-rights activists / vandals, from their hard-drinking neighborhood sheriff steering Dmitriy into trouble, and from Egor’s aunt, bringing news of his mother’s death. We slowly settle in to the fact that Egor is doing exactly what he wants where he wants, and has no real intention of going anywhere else, returning to his past or creating relationships that might remind him of it. Is Egor disturbed, damaged somehow, or has he made his best possible life? Will he be just fine, despite his revisiting demons?

This is director Natalya Meshchaninova’s second feature – her first, The Hope Factory (Russia, 2014) appears to explore some of the same hard-wrought psychological questions as this does. There are a few dashes of dark humor here and there, but it’s an extraordinarily serious-minded film over its 2 hours – perhaps a bit too grim. But the film is beautifully shot by Evgeniy Tsvetkov, and Dasha Danilova’s editing maintains a compelling slow urgency without ever bogging down. There are a few tough scenes of rough animal treatment, but none of it is deliberately cruel. Your own views on hunting in general may disqualify this film, and that’s OK, but, like Monte Hellman’s 1974 Cockfighter, the thoughtfully-presented human elements push the darker subject matter far to the side. The film is a superb character-study short-story, and I thought it was very good. I recommend it.

“Core Of The World” will be shown on Sunday, October 14th at 7:15 pm and Monday the 15th at 8:45 pm.

 

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Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Luisa Ranieri in “Naples In Veils.” credit: repubblica.it

 Ferzan Özpetek is a prolific director of smart and entertaining mainstream-ish films; his comedies are grounded by a good sense of dramatic credibility, and his dramas are leavened with healthy but unobtrusive doses of humor. Turkish by descent, he lives in Italy and sets most of his films there. His latest, Naples In Veils (Napoli Velata) (Italy, 2017) is a splendid, sexy pastiche of Fellini and Hitchcock, with a dash of Shakespearean family intrigue and some 90s Cinemax late-night heavy romance. Adriana’s family is a well-off collection of artistic and theatrically-minded performers, patrons and promoters – Adriana herself (the always terrific Giovanna Mezzogiorno) somehow gravitated to becoming one of the Naples’ police medical examiners. At one of her Aunt Adele’s salon/performances, she encounters the younger, handsome Andrea (Alessandro Borghi) – one thing leads to another and there’s a lovely long evening at her place. They set a date for the next day, but he stands her up. Disturbingly, she discovers why on her next medical shift – Andrea has been murdered. The ongoing investigation, where she’s an obvious but unlikely suspect, reveals to the police Andrea’s pretty chequered criminal art-heisting past. The family has their fun with Adriana’s little sex-and-crime scandal, both affectionately and maliciously, and her fellow police investigators keep her apprised. But only Adriana has met Luca, Andrea’s twin brother separated at birth through adoption, who arrived a few days after the crime, and she’s keeping him for herself while she pieces together her own whole picture.

Ozpetek gives us clever visual clues that Adriana is popping down rabbit holes, entering a twilight zone or two and entering some pretty rigorous psychological terrain as her pursuit of the truth progresses – or does it, really? I really enjoyed this movie – it’s smart, genuinely mysterious, and filled with real love for Napoli and the surrounding characters thereof. But the milieu blends artfully with Ozpetek, Gianni Romoli and Valia Santella well-executed narrative conceits, and the surprises at the conclusion are unpredictable and well-earned. Ozpetek’s films don’t get great distribution over here (with, perhaps, the exception of Ozpetek and Mezzogiorno’s Facing Windows in 2003). You’ll be glad you caught these festival screenings – it’s another lovely European Grown-Up movie about Grown-Ups for Grown-Ups that somehow doesn’t get made very often here, or doesn’t do much business when the few attempts are made. Treat yourself.

“Naples In Veils will be shown on Friday, October 19th at 3:00 pm (an $8.00 matinee) and Sunday, October 21st at 8:15 pm.

2018 Chicago Int’l Film Festival Pt. 1

The 54th Chicago International Film Festival runs from October 10th to October 23rd. All screenings are at the AMC River East theaters at 322 E. Illinois St. in downtown Chicago.

 

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Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia in “Rafiki.”

Trained in England and the UCLA film school, the Kenyan-born writer / director Wanuri Kahiu made a point to return home and produce work true to her origins: as a filmmaker, as co-founder of the media collective AFROBUBBLEGUM, as a TED Fellow and as a World Economic Forum cultural leader. Her second feature film, Rafiki (Kenya, 2018), is well-written, well-directed and well-performed, with a smart, vibrant visual sense courtesy of young South African cinematographer Christopher Wessels. It’s a somewhat programmatic, but engagingly presented, story of genuine young love between two soon-to-graduate schoolgirls, and the familial and cultural conflicts thereof.

Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) is the tomboyish daughter of divorced parents, aspiring to be a nurse if her final school scores are high enough. The object of her admiration, Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), is the daughter of Peter Okemi, who is running against Kena’s shopkeeper father John (Jimmy Gathu) for local political office. On their own, the girls are happy, smitten and inseparable, but their conservative community catches up to them, and things turn very nasty very quickly. The narrative may seem a bit thin and over-westernized, but, as the film itself demonstrates, the stakes of telling this kind of story in Kenya call for as pleasantly-entertaining a treatment as one can create while still treating the subject matter with a sense of real conflict, real gravity. In that context, Kahiu’s work here is admirable. The film was outrightly banned by the Kenyan government, but director Kahiu took legal action to have the ban lifted for one week so the film might qualify for Oscar consideration – and she won. One week later, the ban was back on, but, c’mon… that’s impressive. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a smart, solid film of hope and joy that you’ll be glad you saw.

“Rafiki” will be shown on Saturday the 13th at 1:30 pm and Thursday, October 18th at Noon (an $8.00 matinee).

 

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Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski in “Transit.”

One of our more reliable cinematic storytellers, Christian Petzold’s films each seem to top the previous for the seamless blending of compelling narrative, intelligent visual strategies and guileless performances from his actors. His latest, Transit (Germany / France, 2018) is an apparently loose adaptation of Anna Seghers’ 1942 novel about a German refugee making his way through occupied France towards escape and/or freedom.

Petzold has shifted and blended the (what would now be) period trappings of the original story to describe the same characters (refugees fleeing fascism), under the same circumstances (forming alliances, avoiding trouble, outsmarting self-interested civil-servants, surrendering or withholding emotional support), in a somewhat-subverted present-day. There’s no attempt to create a period environment – with the world leaning warily towards putting authoritarians like the Dutertes and Maduros and Erdogans and Bolsonaros in charge, many of the same questions arise, and many of the same stateless-refugee issues are with us.

Georg (Franz Rogowski, excellent here) has a few options for fleeing Paris, dangerous as that may be. If he delivers some letters to a famous writer, Franz Weider, he will make some money and earn a seat in a car bound for the port of Marseilles. When that goes miserably awry, other friends put him in a freight car on a Marseilles-bound train with another, wounded, partisan. Again, Georg emerges alone, but still alive, in possession of the writer’s documents – a manuscript, I.D. papers, an official letter for passage to Mexico, and a letter from his wife, Marie (Paula Beer), looking forward to their reunion in Marseilles. What use Georg makes of these, and the array of fellow refugees he encounters while waiting to escape, forms the sometimes hopeful, sometimes despairing body of the film. It’s being distributed by Music Box films, so look for a theatrical run there if you’ve missed it here. It’s superb.

 

The Delphine Seyrig Project – Last Year At Marienbad

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credit: bachilleratocinefilo.blogspot.com

A film that launched a thousand dissertations, and one of the most visually beautiful films ever shot, Delphine Seyrig’s feature-film debut was Last Year At Marienbad (L’Année Dernière À Marienbad) (France, 1961). Directed by the great Alain Resnais from a script by Nouveau Roman novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, the film follows an unnamed trio of characters: “A” (Delphine), an elegantly beautiful but inscrutable guest at a palatial hotel, “X” (Giorgio Albertazzi), a handsome Italian suitor who claims to have met A a year or so ago under similar circumstances, and “M” (Sacha Pitoëff), who may be A’s husband, or another suitor, or a self-appointed guardian. The film primarily explores themes and variations on this romantic triangle; X insists that he and A met last year, were intimate, and agreed to meet again in a year’s time per her wishes. A has no recollection of this arrangement, or meeting him, but is nonetheless content to spend time with him during each other’s stay now. M amuses himself with the other guests in the pistol range, playing cards in the elegant game rooms and stumping his fellow guests by consistently winning at Nim, a game where you remove objects from a simple arrangement on a table until you force your opponent to pick up the last remaining object. M hovers in the background but is never far away.

Resnais’ first film, Hiroshima, Mon Amour, presented a pretty straightforward scenario – a couple meets and falls in love, knowing that their time together is tragically but necessarily short. But screenwriter Marguerite Duras doesn’t tell their story in linear, strictly chronological fashion. We learn about them, and their feelings towards each other, through their very different experiences (he’s Japanese, and his family lived with Hiroshima and its aftermath; she’s a French actress in Japan filming an anti-war film), and the piecing together and blending of their personal details and memories, even as we come to understand how unreliable and/or inadequate they may be.

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Giorgio Albertazzi and Sacha Pitoëff in “Last Year At Marienbad.” credit: toutlecine.com

Last Year At Marienbad is far more of a puzzle, a metaphysical mystery to be solved. X starts to relate examples of their courtship from the previous year – how often they ran into each other, unplanned; their conversations about statues, dreams and a possible future together. The assumption is that they met elsewhere – ‘Marienbad’ is basically his best guess, if they’re not already still there right now. Where they are now, like themselves, is unnamed, but it’s one of those immensely ornate chateau / palace resort hotels in central Europe that attracts the Crème de la Crème of elegantly indulgent travelers and businesspeople. X’s recollections with A, as he narrates them, are acted out here, where they are, in our present, which obscures our understanding of present occurrences and past memories. Are most of these flashbacks? Is all of it? None of it?

X is our narrator throughout the film, starting out with a description of the interior of the hotel – its baroque furnishings, its ornate chandeliers, plush carpeting, paintings, artworks and maps, its seemingly endless long halls of doorways. The hotel has numerous other guests, but they are relegated to almost pure background functionality – Resnais stages and positions them in a variety of contrived tableaux – motionless while the camera pans or rotates around them, or while other figures in the same shot move contrapuntally at normal speed. And their dialogue is almost purely non sequitur, with a few quite notable exceptions. Early in the film, the guests view a play in the small hotel theater. (It’s titled Rosmer, but doesn’t seem to relate to any actual known work.) At its seeming conclusion, the lead actor implores the woman to leave another man and run off with him. He clearly convinces her – as the clock strikes a particular hour, she declares “Voila… maintenant… je suis à vous.” (“There… now… I am yours.”) This is a condensed version, a foreshadowing, of what we may witness as the actual story of the film. A few minutes later, X regards another couple in one of the common rooms – she implores her partner to be discreet, to not raise his voice, while he brusquely chides her for her reticence towards him. Another couple converses with each other flirtatiously – “I’m the same as ever” – “you’re the same as ever” they tell each other, laughing. Most of these asides are witnessed or overheard by A or X, and if you pay close attention you’ll find some tricks being played by Resnais – these two quite often end up somewhere they couldn’t possibly have moved to in the course of the scene. Resnais throws us off balance often with these two-places-at-once strategies, or changing backgrounds behind characters moving in a consistent path. None of it is obvious, at first, but it definitely affects our own perceptions of what’s what.

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Giorgio Albertazzi and Delphine Seyrig in “Last Year At Marienbad.” credit: mountainx.com

Sacha Vierny is a legendary French cinematographer, and this film is one of his masterworks. Shooting in black & white Dyaliscope, a wide-format French version of CinemaScope, Vierny must have both celebrated and resented the splendidly complex locations he was given to work with – three immense baroque castles in Munich (with studio work in Courbevoie, France). Delphine Seyrig’s brother Francis created the singular musical score – orchestral fanfares at the start and end bookend a pretty elaborate church organ score, veering from sinister to pastoral to romantic to circus-music, sometimes pretty abruptly. I was fine with it, but some feel it’s the film’s weakest aspect.

Back in the David Niven – Sean Connery – Steve McQueen 60’s, the film was well-regarded as an artful study of elaborate seduction; regardless of its non-linear stylization, it was easy to root for these good-looking kids to get together. X was the aspiring romantic hoping to sweep A off of her hard-to-get coquettish feet, besting her brooding erstwhile male companion. There’s also the other extreme, where the whole film can be regarded as a “Twilight Zone” episode – the play characters, the angry lover, the young flirts, X, A and M, perhaps they’re all trapped in a world of futile romantic fatalism, where everything simply cycles relentlessly. It could all be a dream of his, or perhaps he’s as trapped as everyone else. Sacha Vierny’s spectacular visuals, on my own early viewings, led me to believe the hotel itself was an omnipotent character, like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining or Edgar Allen Poe’s House Of Usher, with its eternally longing customers reliving their fates on and on again. In the #metoo present day, one can make a solid case for a predatory X striving to gaslight A, while a conflicted M passively stands on the sidelines; they may very well have been together a year ago, and there may be dark and powerful reasons for her not remembering. X makes references to “not by force,” and Robbe-Grillet’s later film and writing work explores questions of dominance and submission more explicitly as he goes. The film clearly moves towards a climactic crisis of sorts – whether it’s rapture or rape is purposefully ambiguous. Resnais wants you to decide.

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Delphine Seyrig in “Last Year At Marienbad.” credit: sozealous.blogspot.com

As for Delphine, the credited costumer for the film is the veteran Bernard Evein, but all of A’s gowns were exclusive designs from Coco Chanel, and they are rightfully legendary. Resnais wanted most of his actors here to study silent films, especially Theda Bara and Louise Brooks. Seyrig’s own hair didn’t lend itself to the Pandora’s Box modified pageboy, but Delphine’s brunette hard-lined band across her forehead is arguably just as iconic in the film world as her predecessors. Every character choice Delphine makes here with A is confident and committed – physically, vocally, pragmatically and emotionally – without sacrificing Resnais’ and Robbe-Grillet’s own inclinations to keep things interpretively open. And Vierny obviously lavished rigorous visual attention towards her.

Alain Resnais would use Delphine Seyrig in his next film as well, another French Cinema classic that initially wasn’t received well, but has grown in regard as time has passed.

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“Last Year At Marienbad.” credit: mountainx.com

Movies – Hiroshima, Mon Amour

I used to post foreign film reviews on the now defunct Examiner.com. I’ll start to make some of those reviews available here to preserve them online.

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Alain Resnais’ gorgeous and timeless Hiroshima Mon Amour (France, 1959) is one of the landmarks of world cinema – and it was Resnais’ feature film debut. Of course, he had spent the previous 20 years doing short films and documentaries, one of the most notable being Night And Fog (Nuit Et Brouillard). The 1955 film shuffled an almost pastoral visual tour of the abandoned Auschwitz with previously unseen documentary footage of the camp in full deployment, and during its liberation, 10 years earlier. Only 32 minutes long, it presents things we might be inclined to avoid remembering while demonstrating why we mustn’t. Rather than strictly explaining what happened and why, the film’s narrative recalls things more as reminiscence, as memories already being irrevocably diluted. The screenwriter is the novelist Jean Cayrol, who himself was interred in the camps.

Resnais originally set out to do something similar with Hiroshima Mon Amour, but more expansively. The French novelist Marguerite Duras wrote Resnais’ screenplay, and successfully manufactured a 36-hour affair between strangers that not only expressed enormous amounts of swooning romantic fatalism, but also commented on our human propensities to process, or repress, pain and tragedy through the filter of memory. The first portion of the film is, indeed, a documentary on Hiroshima, filmed years after the atomic bomb blast – we tour the commemorative museum, see footage of the initial aftermath of the blast, and witness how the Japanese inhabitants themselves are still living with the results. But the voiceover, and the initial images, are provided by the couple having the affair; the French woman (the brilliant Emmanuelle Riva) asserts what she’s learned, and describes the local sights she’s seen, during her short visit, while the Japanese man (Eiji Okada) denies that she knows anything of Hiroshima. He’s an architect whose family lived through the blast – she’s an actress who has come to Hiroshima as part of the cast of an anti-war film. They are, however, immersed in love and lust with each other at the moment, despite knowing that they must leave each other, probably forever, in 36 hours.

At the onset of the French New Wave, Francois Truffaut made The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups, 1959), and dissolved the line between objectively- presented narrative and the filmmaker’s subjective personal concerns. Jean-Luc Godard made Breathless (À bout de soufflé, 1960), and dissolved the line between real people and actors, real interaction and contrived narrative, and how the plastic qualities of film can affect all of that. Like the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, Godard always reminds you of the pretense, he always reminds you you’re watching a film, while convincing you that what’s on screen can be just as real as any other lived experience. Alain Resnais, in this film and his subsequent works, had more in common with the new wave of French writers and novelists of the time – the Nouveau Roman. Along with Resnais’ collaborators like Cayrol, Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet (the writer of his next feature, Last Year At Marienbad, 1961), French writers like Raymond Queneau, George Perec and Robert Pinget were deconstructing literature into its component concepts – Queneau wrote interchangeable cut-and-paste poems (A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems), and Exercices De Style, which tells the same mundane story in 99 different styles, while Perec wrote a 300-page mystery novel (La Disparition / A Void) that never used the letter ‘e.’ (Neither in French nor the English translation!)

Resnais was interested in the same kind of narrative experiments as films; to tell stories of evocative people with personal histories, but to dissolve the boundaries between present and past, real-time and flashback, the lived present moment and memory, emotion and practicality, normal conversation and poetic exchange. The actress relates a tragic story of her love for a German soldier during the French occupation, and, as she relates the tale, the Japanese architect becomes a kind of transferee, a surrogate for her unresolved feelings towards her lost love. He, in turn, married with a family, begs her to remain in Hiroshima, simultaneously knowing, and denying, that it can never happen.

Hiroshima Mon Amour is not only superb as engaging storytelling and incisive character study, but also ranks as one of the most beautifully shot films of the French New Wave; French veteran Sacha Vierny and Michio Takahashi are co-credited as cinematographers. Also quite wonderful is the musical score by Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco, an aggressively angular small-group jazz soundtrack that isn’t afraid to pop into circus music or mournful lament as the moment calls for. And don’t underestimate the musicality of Duras’ text, either, superbly surveyed by Riva and Okada (who, while clearly understanding what he was saying, performed the French dialogue purely phonetically. You’d never know it…)

The Giallo Project – Massimo Dallamano

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Cristina Galbó in “What Have They Done To Solange?” credit: deadshed.blogspot.com

Like another giallo craftsman, Emilio Miraglia, our filmmaker today, Massimo Dallamano, was a seasoned veteran of Italian filmmaking technical departments before creating his own work. He started out as a cinematographer in the late forties, and had shot close to thirty features when Sergio Leone hired him as cinematographer for A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More (credited as Jack Dalmas). A few years later, he graduated to directing his own projects: the excellent spaghetti western Bandidos (1967) and his first tame-but-capable foray into giallo-style, A Black Veil For Lisa (1968). And, like many journeyman filmmakers, Dallamano treated giallo as just another genre among westerns, sex comedies and poliziotteschi. But his films, like Sergio Martino’s, are of such high consistency that even the non-giallos are worth examining here.

 

Venus In Furs (aka Devil In The Flesh) (Le Malizie Di Venere) (Italy, 1969) is writer Fabio Massimo’s genuinely sexy loose adaptation of the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novella, and Dallamano delivers some genuinely classy work here. Severin (Régis Vallée, a very capable actor who only made a few films) is a writer and bon vivant staying at an Italian lake resort. When Wanda (Laura Antonelli), a stunning photographer’s model, arrives, Severin is smitten. He indulges himself voyeuristically at first – she’s in a room that Severin can peep into through holes behind a painting, and he relates a voice-over narrative to us about his youngest erotic experiences growing up. But once he finally introduces himself, her voice is added to the narrative as well, and we find her to be every bit his match in pragmatism and sexuality. And as they confide to each other more and more, Severin reveals that his fondest wish is to be her slave – to be dominated, and, on occasion, outrightly humiliated, by her. She has some misgivings about it at first, but slowly but surely warms to the sense of power she feels, the power he’s allowing her to have. They move to a small villa in the country and hire a couple of comely domestics, blond and brunette. Severin then becomes her chauffeur, joining the domestic servants, and she starts to more fervently indulge herself, and her own power, at his expense, with a local painter who does her portrait and a biker, Bruno (Loren Ewing), whom she has Severin pick up for her on the highway. Bruno moves in with them to service her, embarrass him, and even abuse the maids as well. By now she’s all about her own pleasure, and genuinely enthusiastic about belittling Severin any way she can, even as Bruno treats her just as cruelly. Severin, in shame and exasperation, seems to give up on the whole affair, packing his bags and leaving. But Wanda has one more trick up her sleeve…

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Laura Antonelli in “Venus In Furs.” credit: videowatchdog.blogspot.com

A few things keep the film from being just another soft-core snoozefest; the first is Dallamano’s taste level, which is unerring. He’s acutely aware of, and makes real visual distinctions between, scenes about sex and sensuality and scenes about power and antagonism. (The cinematographer is Sergio D’Offizi, who later shot Don’t Torture A Duckling for Lucio Fulci.) The characters are established confidently, and there’s a well-structured narrative dynamic to their interactions. And while the film may not seem like much of a provocation these days, it was banned in Italy for six years, and then released in an egregiously-edited version. (It’s since been re-assembled, thank goodness.) The second asset the film has is Dallamano’s seemingly effortless rapport with his actors. Laura Antonelli soon became one of Italy’s most reliably appealing actresses throughout the seventies; 1973’s Malizia was her breakthrough role, and its success led to a deluge of sexy young man/ older woman comedies and dramas. But it can be argued that Italy’s censorship of this film postponed her inevitable stardom by four years. Vallée works with her well, generating real spark and intimacy. It feels a little dated, but not distractingly so. It’s well-crafted, and well worth checking out if you run across it.

 

Dallamano’s next project was Dorian Gray (Il Dio Chiamato Dorian – ‘The God Called Dorian’) (Italy, 1970), an update of the 1945 Albert Lewin adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novella “The Picture Of Dorian Gray,” produced by British hackmeister Harry Alan Towers (one of Jess Franco’s most ardent backers) and the American Samuel Z. Arkoff. This adaptation is far freer about indulgences that Wilde and Lewin could only hint at in 1890 and 1945, but, again, Dallamano brings a healthy sense of restraint to what could have been a profligately trashy movie. Helmut Berger sandwiched this role between appearing in two Italian masterworks, Visconti’s The Damned (1969) and DeSica’s The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis (1970), but he couldn’t pass up Dorian Gray, and he’s inarguably perfect for the role. The film hews pretty closely to Wilde’s narrative – Dorian is callow and self-centered, but has a sensitive side brought out by Sybil Vane (Marie Liljedahl, one of a few Jess Franco actors used here), a beautiful aspiring actress who captures his heart. The fateful portrait is painted by his friend Basil Hallward (Richard Todd), and immoderately admired by the reptilian artists’ agent and man-about-town Henry Wotton (Herbert Lom) and his willful sister Gwendolyn (Margaret Lee) – Henry befriends Dorian, and becomes an aesthetic and philosophical mentor to him. Wotton explains that the painting will be forever young while Dorian must inevitably age. “Why should I get old while this stays young?” Dorian famously exclaims. And, of course, Dorian’s evil switcheroo comes to pass (with a refreshing absence of any religious or magical context). Wotton’s in-crowd indulges Dorian, luring him towards riches, fame and wealthy patronage, while Sybil struggles in her small theater. After a bitter argument between them, Sybil departs and has a deadly accident. (This is straight-up suicide in the book, but Dallamano keeps things a little less hysteric throughout.) In total denial of his loss, Dorian spends the rest of the film on a sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll bender featuring lots of bedwork with whomever he wishes of any sex. With his decadence escalating, he eventually kills Basil is a fit of pique, and causes the deaths of Sybil’s snoopy brother and a doctor/friend, Alan Campbell, who helped him dispose of Basil’s body. The last straw of sanity is pulled when he meets a rich doctor’s wife who is a doppelganger for Sybil. Mad as a hatter, he gazes for a last time on the hideous image the canvas now holds, and kills himself, returning the natural order back to its proper subjects.

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Helmut Berger in “Dorian Gray.” credit: eldiabolik.wordpress.com

Narratively, the film is pretty racy. But after the visual candor of Venus In Furs, I was surprised that Dorian Gray was so… umm… reasonable. The seventies art-direction elements mix old-school old-money with pop art and pop furnishings admirably, and everything’s shot beautifully by Otello Spila, whom incidentally shot Pasolini’s Teorema as well – another tale of an amoral man tearing a swath through conventional ideas of wealth and family. But aside from some bashful nudity and strategic camera placement, the sex scenes suggest more than they show, a departure from a number of other Italian genre directors at the time. The deaths are also far more melodramatic than explicit – one can only imagine what grisly opportunities Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento would have made of Sybil’s, or the others’, deaths. Dallamano is really good at parsing and structuring his writers’ narratives to direct visual purposes, and eliciting the most from his actors throughout. It’s good, watchable fun, but no masterpiece. The masterpiece comes next.

 

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Cristina Galbó and Fabio Testi in “What Have They Done To Solange?” credit: http://goodefficientbutchery.blogspot.com

What Have They Done To Solange? (Cosa Avete Fatto A Solange?) (Italy, 1971), in notable contrast to his previous work, perhaps goes a little too far. The murders are darkly sexual and disturbing, the romantic elements are always a little creepy, some of giallos’ more notorious clichés are seemingly reinforced, and the Catholic church, as usual, comes in for some derisive scrutiny. But we’ve discussed Dallamano’s touch for presenting lurid subject matter in appreciable doses, and he (and co-writer Bruno Di Geronimo) nails those boundaries here within the context of his always well-tailored narrative strategies.

The artful withholding of information is a time-honored exercise in crime mysteries; which secrets are kept, and which pieces of the puzzle are revealed in which particular order is always the trick of a good narrative. Most giallos make each murder a showpiece of sorts, and the murders are thematically intrinsic to the narrative. But here, as in Lucio Fulci’s year- later Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972), the specifics of the actual crimes, and the motivations thereof, aren’t as important as presenting the particular culture or environmental temperament that allows such subsequent nastiness to arise and flourish, and examining how our protagonists act and react under unnaturally stressful circumstances.

Enrico Rosseni (Fabio Testi) is an Italian and gymnastics teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic College for Girls in London; his wife, Erta (Karin Baal) teaches mathematics there as well. But the marriage is in poor shape these days – they’re estranged, but still living together – and Enrico is having a passionate affair with one of his students, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó). While spending a leisurely Sunday in a rowboat floating along a woody path, Elizabeth thinks she’s glimpsed a young girl running from a dark figure. Distracted by Enrico’s canoodling, she tries to dismiss it as nothing, but then sees the flash of a large knife and what she imagines must be a violent attack. She’s pretty upset, but Enrico takes it as a ruse to reject his advances, and they leave the park in annoyed disagreement. They regrettably learn the next day that those glimpses indeed were a nasty crime, and one of Elizabeth’s classmates, Hilda, was the victim. Feeling guilty about being dismissive with Elizabeth, Enrico starts to investigate on his own; he inevitably crosses paths with the police, but is reluctant to expose Elizabeth and his affair with her.

After a second victim is discovered – Elizabeth’s schoolmate Janet – Elizabeth recalls that the man she spied chasing Hilda may have been wearing black priest’s robes. The school’s staff and faculty start eyeing each other warily, the police investigation narrows- Janet’s death is identical to Hilda’s – and another crucially important murder follows depressingly quickly.

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Claudia Butenuth and Joachim Fuchsberger in “What Have They Done To Solange?” credit: oneworldmusics.blogspot.com

Part of Dallamano’s success here is the initial, and nicely sustained, empathy he fosters for his main characters. Having fragments of the first death filtered through Elizabeth’s perspective is quite effective – she helps us to take the attack seriously and empathize with the unknown victim even as we’re temporarily spared the nastier details. Enrico sleeping with one of his students is transgressive, but they’re both so likable otherwise – he deferential and discreet, she quite mature and prepossessing – that we’re inclined to accept their couplehood as credible, not simply an indulgence. Dallamano’s confidence in our goodwill towards them is then the basis of a few hard twists, but those choices are well-earned and effective. Enrico, in true giallo form, is a suspect in the murders; nonetheless, he gets unexpected support later on from the seemingly spiteful but resilient Erta, who knows in her heart that he’s not capable of any of it. (A featurette on the most recent DVD release reveals that Karin Baal, despite her convincing work, did not like the film.) The ubiquitous police inspector (German krimi veteran Joachim Fuchsberger), almost always superfluous or unhelpful in most giallos, is actually pretty capable here, though it’s Enrico, of course, who eventually cracks the case. Elizabeth’s friends, who form the list of victims, are tied together by indulgences that, in one fateful instance, turned tragic. There’s an easy, specious argument to be made here that the girls are being punished for their promiscuity, but the overall narrative goes deeper than that. Dallamano and Di Geronimo’s film is about the failures of contemporary institutions – educational, familial and religious, and the failures of the so-called adults thereof, to protect their children from, or prepare their children for, the moral vagaries of the real world.

The film is notably well-shot by Aristide Massaccesi, but B-movie aficionados will know him better by his directing nom du cinéma Joe D’Amato, one of the more prolific erotica and gorefest sleazemeisters of the late 20th century. The man knows his photography, though, make no mistake. And Ennio Morricone provides another astonishingly good, and characteristically unique, soundtrack. This film will easily make the upper half of any top ten list of giallos, and is a must-see exemplar of the genre.

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Camille Keaton in “What Have They Done To Solange?” credit: nuovocinemalocatelli.com

 

Dallamano’s next films evinced more evidence of his technical skills in service to his storytelling, to varying degrees of success. Mafia Junction (Si Può Essere Più Bastardi Dell’ispettore Cliff?, or Can You Be More Of A Bastard Than Inspector Cliff?) also goes by The Blue Movie Murders and, my favorite, Super Bitch (Italy, 1973). An elaborate crime caper film with equally unscrupulous cops and criminals, it features a pretty elaborate, sometimes ridiculous plot and solid performances from Italian-film veteran Ivan Rassimov and the terrific British actress Stephanie Beacham, who managed to easily outclass most of the projects she found herself performing in. Next up was Innocence and Desire (Innocenza E Turbamento) (Italy, 1974), one of seemingly hundreds of Malizia knock-offs, with this version featuring impressive giallo and sex-comedy veteran Edwige Fenech rather than Venus In Furs’ Laura Antonelli. It’s pretty generic stuff for the genre, but was certainly acceptable light entertainment at the time. It features a few typically Italian digs at the church (our young protagonist is a seminarian sent home to reconsider his convictions who falls in love with Dad’s second wife) and also features the blacklisted American actor Lionel Stander, who worked in Europe extensively throughout the sixties and seventies before gaining notoriety as Max on the TV series Hart To Hart.

 

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Mario Adorf and Giovanna Ralli in “What Have They Done To Your Daughters?” credit: 10kbullets.com

What Have They Done To Your Daughters? started out as La Polizia Chiede Aiuto (Italy, 1974), which translates to The Police Need Your Help. But western distributors were keen on associating it with What Have They Done To Solange?, even though I suspect Dallamano just saw it as another project he could bring a similar style to. It’s far more poliziotteschi than giallo, but the idea that schools, police, doctors and parents are actually pretty helpless to protect their children from malicious harm runs through this film as well. Told from the view of an ongoing police investigation, a teenaged girl’s suicide leads to the discovery of a high-school-girls’ prostitution ring, and the criminals that run it start getting sloppy and violent when the police start closing in.

Inspector Valentini (Mario Adorf), a family man with a teen daughter of his own, draws the suicide case at first, but it’s handed off to the tenacious Inspector Silvestri (Claudio Cassinelli) and Assistant D.A. Vittoria Stori (Giovanna Ralli). Their first lead is a snooping photographer who has images of the dead girl in flagrante delicto before her death. The girl’s maid and absentee parents then lead them to a private detective and the girl’s therapist. From there the plot thickens in pretty efficient and involving fashion. Most prominent is the ubiquitous black leather-clad motorcycle -riding killer wielding a butcher’s cleaver.

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“What Have They Done To Your Daughters?” credit: grindhousedatabase.com

Dallamano collaborated with Ettore Sanzò on the screenplay, and, despite a few narrative slip-ups, has constructed a very good procedural thriller. Efficiently shot by Franco Delli Colli, there’s a nice car chase and a genuinely scary parking-garage stalking scene that rise well above their standard treatments elsewhere. With a very good musical score by the reliable Stelvio Cipriani, this isn’t a film I’d urge you to seek out, but it’s certainly worth your while if you run across it.

 

Dallamano followed with the well-regarded supernatural horror thriller The Night Child, aka The Cursed Medallion (Il Medaglione Insanguinato) (Italy, 1975) and 1976’s Annie, aka Blue Belle an Emmanuelle-like softcore sex saga starring Euro-siren Annie Belle. Dallamano was hired in for this one, as tawdry producer Harry Alan Towers had fallen out with Jess Franco, who would have usually handled this sort of project for him.

 

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“Rings Of Fear” credit: giallowkadrze.blogspot.com

The third “chapter” of what others like to group as Dallamano’s “Schoolgirls-In-Peril” trilogy (…Solange, …Daughters) goes by another long list of titles – the Italian title is Enigma Rosso, and is most commonly called Rings Of Fear (Italy, 1978), but it’s also found as Red Rings Of Fear, Virgin Killer and Trauma, depending on the distributor. The film had a rocky road to production – another Dallamano directing project, he had completed his screenplay when he tragically lost his life in a car crash in Rome. The producers then hired Alberto Negrin, a TV veteran with no feature film experience, and four other writers to put the finishing touches on what they had. The results are pretty disappointing.

Another Catholic girl’s school, another secretive clique of promiscuous girls, another traumatic abortion, and another step-by-step police investigation feels like Dallamano territory, but it’s all so unoriginal and clumsily presented that I suspect there wasn’t a lot of this in the original script – those elements were grafted on in homage to Dallamano’s earlier work, and simplified to give fans more of what they expected in far less subtle doses. Fabio Testi is once again our protagonist, but this time he’s the police inspector, DiSalvo, with a sensitive streak at home with his kleptomaniac girlfriend (Christine Kaufmann, in a woefully underwritten role) and pet cats, and a hot temper when on the job, on the case. The discovery of a girl’s mutilated body wrapped in plastic in the lake starts the investigation, but DiSalvo gets unexpected help from the victim’s vengeful little sister Emily (Fausta Avelli).

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Fabio Testi in “Rings Of Fear.” credit: satanicpandemonium.blogspot.com

The film, admittedly, looks great. Shot by Italian veteran Eduardo Noé, the film features an impressive central staircase in the girl’s school with a giant nun statue that’s put to excellent use, both atmospherically and practically. Credited composer Riz Ortolani is usually pretty reliable, but much of his soundtrack music here is recycled from 1973’s Super Bitch. Actor Jack Taylor, who figures as one of the villains here, later claimed the film was never finished, and that’s not hard to believe.

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“Rings Of Fear.” credit: dirtypictures.pnpbb8.de