Monday, July 21, 2008

What have you done to Solange?

This review comes from contributor Mr Intolerance.

Strap on the black leather gloves, kids, it’s giallo time! And it’s a reasonably sordid affair, too. As is the affair between high-school teacher Enrico Rossini (the reliably good Fabio Testi) and his student Elizabeth; this kind of sets the sleazy tone for the world we’re in, in this film. There’s nothing good about the context we’re introduced to; you can’t even rely on a good clean kill, if you’re going to get murdered. You’ll be killed, sure, but in a vicious, brutal, not to mention degrading, way.

st as in Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, the murder that sparks off the action in this film is witnessed, sort of, at the start of the film – and it is pretty repellent. This is one of those great moments of giallo cinema where the implied violence is so strong you actually think you see it explicitly. You get a fair bit of this in …Solange. We start off the film with Enrico and his young paramour, a student of his at St Mary’s College for Catholic Girls in London, getting to second base in a boat floating up the Thames. Just as he’s starting to map out the uncharted territory of her boobs, she happens (with inevitable giallo logic) to look up and see a long knife blade getting slammed viciously between a young girl’s thighs (ouch!). He doesn’t believe she’s seen this, being a bit more concerned with trying to nob her, and throws a bit of a tanty before taking her back to town, presumably with a terrible case of blue balls, given his rather cruel treatment of the poor young thing. But the murder did happen, and it’s the first of a few – and it’s the start of a number of cases, all related somehow back to the mysterious Solange (Camille I Spit On Your Grave Keaton).

I think one of the elements of mystery essential to the giallo genre that’s so well handled in this film is that the title character is kept off-screen for most of its duration. You see the title, you hear the character’s name mentioned, but where the hell is she?
Actually, when you even read the title, you ask yourself, what have they done to Solange? Given the kind of film this is, and that first kill, you can only assume that what ever “they” have done is very bad indeed. Enrico’s marriage sucks pretty hard. To call it a cold and unfeeling one is to put it mildly. His Nordic, if not positively Aryan-looking wife, Herda, he refers to as “piss elegant”, a phrase that made wine shoot out of my nose. True, she’s a bit of an ice-maiden, but he’s a philandering paedo, so should we listen to a word he says? Enjoying such matrimonial harmony, Enrico hears on the news about the murder and becomes a tad agitated. He goes to the crime scene for a bit of a look-see, thus implicating himself, in the eyes of the police as the story progresses.

Anyway, the coppers have turned up to St Mary’s, as the girl murdered was a final year student there. The police rather inexplicably show the staff some crime scene photos of the poor young murdered Hilda with a knife buried deep in her vagina, and then fuck off for no readily apparent reason – wouldn’t they want to question her friends? Or the staff, for that matter? Or even explain why they’re showing them such horrid photos? There’s that giallo logic again…

Enrico prevents Elisabeth from going to the police, for the obvious reasons, and that reinforces our view of him as a sack of shit, and our take on the world of this film as a bit of a seamy one. This latter point is reinforced when Hilda’s parents are interviewed by the police and dear old Dad states extremely emphatically to the investigating officer about the other students, “I never understood those girls.” That’s a clue, by the way, and signposted in such an obvious way it makes your head spin. I guess that given the context of the film’s composition, Generation Gap was pretty paramount in the audience’s collective mind.

The police manage to convince Enrico to tell his real side of the story, but the whole investigation is still treading water, until…uh-oh, another murder of another pretty young student of St Mary’s, and in the same grotesque manner as before (cue: more knife-in-cunt photos). And again, a la Plumage, the original witness, Elisabeth, starts having flashbacks revealing that little bit more of the original crime all the time, piece-by-piece, in the little love-pad she’s set up with Enrico.
Elisabeth finally tells her story, with some of the details glossed over, and with some pretty dire consequences. And can you spell “red herring”? I mean how stupid are these police? The trail of nastiness continues unabated. It appears that the girls were very cliquey (oh, what a surprise), and are protecting something or someone, which starts driving Enrico back towards his wife, as they become some kind of awesome crime-fighting duo, trying to discover the culprit. Enrico interrogates a jive photographer, and Solange is first mentioned.

Then the film picks up pace, and it wasn’t any slouch to begin with.
Enter: Solange, and the last act of the film. You thought it was grimy? Oh, you just wait and see… And now the motive for the killer seems to have been made apparent. And time for me to shut my mouth, not wanting to be giving any potential plot- spoilers.

So then: amateur detectives? Check! Sexual violence? Check! A black-leather-gloved-assassin? Check! An incompetent police force? Check! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a giallo.

This film has a lot to recommend itself. Aristide Massaccei’s (Joe D’Amato’s) camerawork (say what you will about his direction, he knew his way around a camera), an Ennio Morricone score, excellent cinematography, just to re-state the point, Fabio Testi in god-mode, a plot that gradually unfolds and is totally unknowable, and an ending that can’t be predicted.

The performances are all you’d expect from a giallo; heightened register, heightened delivery, excessive violence and black leather gloves. It’s all good.
It sort of struck me at a later point how intrusive the whole Catholic milieu was and yet intrinsic to the intended audience, given that England is a predominantly Protestant country, but there’s those wacky Catholic Italians for you.

Very kind thank you to Mr Intolerance for the excellent review.

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