Husbands and Lovers

Husbands and Lovers (Mauro Bolognini, 1992)

aka Villa del Venerdi

Author Stefan (Julian Sands) and his wife Alina (Joanna Pacula) have an open arrangement regarding extramarital affairs. Problems arise with this arrangement when they arrive in Italy for Stefan to work on a film project and Alina reconnects with an old lover Paolo (Tcheky Karyo), who wants to see her exclusively on the weekends. During these weekends Stefan is distracted but resists labelling it jealousy but becomes disturbed when Alina describes the sadomasochistic bent her relationship with Paolo is taking. He seeks emotional comfort from the couples’ friend Louisa (Lara Wendel) but his jealousy begins to show as Paolo becomes more violent and it turns out this couple isn’t as jaded as they had first thought.

I’m not that familiar with Mauro Bolognini’s output but the script for HUSBANDS AND LOVERS bears all the hallmarks of author Alberto Moravia’s other works (VILLA DEL VENERDI is in print but was never translated into English) such as A GHOST AT NOON (filmed by Godard as CONTEMPT) and CONJUGAL LOVE (about an author who abstains from sex with his wife because he thinks his creativity is being sapped by their sex life only to become suspicious of his wife and his barber). We have an intellectual author who spends more time puzzling and analyzing the behaviour of his emotional wife than actually talking to her about it, rather talking at her instead. In one key scene, after hearing about Alina and Paolo’s latest weekend together (“I felt like he wanted to rip my sex out of me!”), Stefan defines sadomasochism to Alina who counters that Stefan’s problem is that he always wants to intellectualise everything, to label and sum up what she feels are complex emotions (another Moravia trait that can be summed up in his short story ‘The Fetish’ in which a man ridicules his wife’s response to a featureless piece of modern art she has purchased). We have an artistic milieu; the film Stefan is working on, an interpretive dance performance where Alina and Paolo lock eyes under Stefan’s nose.

Co-produced by P.A.C. (Mario Bava’s FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON) and Galliano Juso’s MetroFilm, the film shares crew and locations from other productions by both companies around the same time. The spacious apartment with its indoor pool that Alina and Stefan rent while working on the film is the same as Pacula’s city residence in Lamberto Bava’s BODY PUZZLE (produced by PAC and co-written by this film’s production manager Teodoro Agrimi) and editor Sergio Montanari edited Ruggero Deodato’s enjoyably loopy DIAL: HELP (produced by Galliano Juso who went on to produce THE BELT adapted from a Moravia short story and directed by Giuliano Gamba whose earlier film BIZARRE/PROFUMO he also produced which was designed by this film’s art director Claudio Cinini and edited by Montanari).

Like the other P.A.C. productions of the time BODY PUZZLE and CIRCLE OF FEAR (both shot by Luigi Kuveiller), the cinematography is slick but rather ordinary (VILLA DEL VENERDI was shot by the great Giuseppe Lanci but does not look like the work of the man who shot Tarkovsky’s beautiful and moving NOSTALGHIA). Paolo’s Romanesque villa on the beach also cropped up in Ivanna Massetti’s shallow but visually and aurally pleasing feminist film DOMINO, which was mismarketed in the states as an erotic thriller. Sands is rather enervating as the protagonist but Pacula–who I first noticed as the one saving grace of the otherwise dire horror film THE KISS–isn’t given much motivation–other than the revelation that she can’t have children so she must have something else to do with her time apparently–but she can get away with her exquisite looks and that slight tremor in her sexy accent. Both leads go through the film garbed in Armani (I’ll write crap films about underage prostitutes if I get to wear Armani and live in palatial apartments) including Pacula’s striking red cocktail dress that she wears as she leaves and returns from her weekends.

I’ve always liked Karyo in any language, and he adds a touch of class to anything (including an episode of the flashy but generally boring ‘Red Shoe Diaries’; a series that my friends and I watched back in our high school days thinking it naughty and sophisticated). Karyo isn’t given much motivation either. He’s just a playboy concert pianist who likes to have Pacula leaning against his piano during gatherings at his villa, and  who indulges in kink for the service of the plot. Ennio Morricone phones in a score combining orchestra and synthesizer of which only the main title theme is particularly memorable (the rest sounds like the kind of filler Pino Donaggio was inserting in between the memorable main themes of his eighties work) and one of those uncredited–at least in the English version–songs at a dance club (where we get to see Pacula thrashing around on the dance floor) that would’ve been nice to have turn up on the soundtrack release.

In the US, the film was distributed by actor-turned-producer Mark Damon’s Vision International (through which he produced Zalman King’s fun but hilariously trashy WILD ORCHID) and distributed on tape and laserdisc (like most other Vision productions and acquisitions) by Columbia Tri-Star in both R-rated and Unrated editions. I have no idea which version I saw (both Pacula and Sands show everything but I didn’t notice any of the thrusting motions that the MPAA is so afraid of American viewers seeing, though they may have objected to the rather bland portrayal of sadomasochism. The US tapes and disc were fullscreen and in stereo with closed captioning that even captioned some of the lyrics of the dance club song. As with the PAC productions BODY PUZZLE and CIRCLE OF FEAR, VILLA DEL VENERDI has been released twice on DVD in Italy, once in non-anamorphic widescreen by Medusa and then as an anamorphic widescreen release by Mondo Home Entertainment (with 2.0 and 5.1 audio). I have not seen either but specs suggest its an Italian only release. There was reportedly a fullscreen Russian DVD with English and Russian audio options but I have not come across a copy and the film never made it to US DVD.

Although MGM released DVDs of the some Vision productions such WILD ORCHID, they likely do not have the rights to many of Vision’s foreign acquisitions (they released DVDs of CURSE 2: THE BITE and TROLL 2 but BEYOND THE DOOR III was released on DVD by Media Blasters). Not sure if it merits a fandubbing but I’d be up to the task if someone could provide a DVDR of the English version.

(Eric Cotenas)

Who Saw Her Die?

Who Saw Her Die? (Aldo Lado, 1972)

aka Chi l’ha vista morire? / The Child

Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW is rightly considered to be a classic of the horror genre and regarded as a landmark of British cinema. Roeg’s film manages to present the picturesque city of Venice as a nightmarish landscape; one draped in a constant blanket of fog and where danger can lurk anywhere in the city’s labyrinth of alleyways and bridges. But director Aldo Lado (THE NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS) had himself done a great job of depicting an edgier side of the city of canals a year earlier with WHO SAW HER DIE?, a fantastic giallo that has been criminally overlooked by the critical cognoscenti. Not only does Lado’s film share the same setting as Roeg’s but DON’T LOOK NOW also touches on many of WHO SAW HER DIE’s themes too.

Sculpter Franco Serpieri (former James Bond, George Lazenby) is delighted to be joined in Venice by his daughter, Roberta (prolific child actor  Nicoletta Elmi – DEEP RED, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN), who has been living in London with his estranged wife, Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg – ALMOST HUMAN, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN). Although Franco is happy to show his beloved Roberta the sights of his hometown, it’s not long before he’s leaving her to play in the street with a group of kids, so that he can hop into bed with a woman with whom he has been having a casual affair. Whist Franco and his mistress engage in intercourse, Roberta’s play friends desert her and leave her alone; making her easy prey for the murderer that has been stalking her. Joined by Elizabeth for the impending funeral, a guilt-stricken Franco decides to pursue his own investigation into the death of his daughter, and in true giallo style, a labyrinthine stew of intrigue follows…

Anyone familiar with DON’T LOOK NOW will recognise other similarities between the two films, particularly that of the grieving parents whose loveless marriage becomes rekindled after the death of a precious daughter. One can only hazard a guess that the writers of WHO SAW HER DIE – Francesco Barilli, Massimo D’Avak and Ruediger von Spiess must have been familiar with Du Maurier’s original text, as elements of Lado’s film border on plagiarism. That said, the editing of the film also echoes that of Roeg’s, with Lado and his editor, Angelo Curi, utilising flash cuts—something that is atypical of the giallo but used to great effect in DON’T LOOK NOW—which would indicate that the British director must have been aware of WHO SAW HER DIE? too.

WHO SAW HER DIE? marked Lado’s second foray into the realms of the giallo after his excellent debut, SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS the year previously; although if fate hadn’t intervened, Lado would not have directed the film. Although an established director by 1972, Lado had worked his way up from assistant director, most notably on Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST. Having made SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS as director, Lado was preparing to work as an assistant director on Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS before filming was postponed to allow Marlon Brando to return to the US and film THE GODFATHER. Without a project in the pipeline, Lado was delighted to accept directorial duties on WHO SAW HER DIE? when his SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS producer, Enzo Doria came calling, and the rest is history. Given that Lado is a native of Venice, it would be hard to imagine any other director making WHO SAW HER DIE? now, as he managed to resist the temptation to make the film look like a travelogue. With the exception of a smattering of shots of the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square, the director is content to show a side of the city that had rarely been captured before, and in doing so, orchestrates some truly beautiful compositions with his cinematographer, Franco Di Giacomo. The film has a very distinctive iconography and its black lace-clad killer is an unforgettable image and a real genre standout. Ennio Morricone’s score is also terrific and again truly memorable; it’s haunting use of child vocals will stay with you for days after.

WHO SAW HER DIE? was previously released on DVD in the US by Anchor Bay Entertainment as part of their Giallo Collection, on what is regarded to be a great disc. This same transfer was utilised by Blue Underground for their recent re-release. However, Shameless’ disc now stands as the definitive article, though it does not include the brief interview with Lado that adorns the American discs. What makes the Shameless release essential is that it features footage not included on either of the US discs. Said footage consists of an extension to the scene in which a murder takes place in the room with the birdcage. In the US versions, we see the assailant stab the victim five times, whereas the victim is knifed seven times in the Shameless version. Though this additional material amounts to mere seconds, it manages to prolong the viciousness of the attack.

The Shameless disc presents WHO SAW HER DIE? In its original 2.35:1 ratio and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. The print itself compares favourably to the American releases, as it is somewhat brighter overall. That said, the level of detail is slightly better on the Anchor Bay disc, with the Shameless release looking a little soft by comparison. This is however a very minor issue. The sound is presented in English mono and is strong and consistent throughout. Rounding out the package is the film’s trailer and a collection of previews for other Shameless releases.

WHO SAW HER DIE? is an excellent and very stylish giallo. Shameless’ release of the film is an essential purchase for giallo completists and with the inclusion of footage not seen in any other version, makes it a worthwhile double-dip for those that already own one of the US releases.

(Paul Alaoui)

 

Once Upon a Time in America Redux

Sergio Leone’s ill-treated mob movie classic is heading back to the Cannes Film Festival this year in an all-new incarnation. The film has been painstakingly restored from the original negatives and includes a whopping 40 minutes of additional footage.

A labour of love that’s been over a year in the making, the project will be finally unveiled at France’s most prestigious annual event – a fitting debut for the longer cut, as it was in Cannes where the film was initially screened 28 years ago. ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA would sadly become director Leone’s swansong, as his long-gestating World War II epic, LENINGRAD, never got off the ground before his death in 1989 (though the film is currently in pre-production and cameras are set to roll for director Guiseppe Tornatore [CINEMA PARADISO] later this year).

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA is something of a departure from the Italian westerns with which Leone made his name and is the epic tale of a group of young Jewish boys who become embroiled in New York’s criminal underworld during the prohibition era.  Leone’s film is a sprawling masterpiece but its American distributor, the Ladd Company (who had similarly interfered with Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER), was of the opinion that it was too long and its non-linear structure too confusing, insisting on cuts totaling almost an hour and a half before its release. The film fared better in Europe where it was released in a version that ran for 3 ¾ hours (the version that is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video) but stories have persisted of longer cuts and missing footage for many years.

At present it is not exactly clear what the new material consists of and no announcement has been made relating to a home video release of the longer cut (though it is inevitable). I guess we’ll have to wait until the reviews following the Cannes screening begin to filter through next month.