A Bay of Blood (1971, Mario Bava)

There are some things you’ve gotta do in SHOCKtober, and one thing is you’ve gotta watch something Italian. As the saying goes, if you haven’t got Argento, a Fulci will do. If you haven’t got a Fulci, woe unto you.

This is one of those giallo things where everyone is knifed to death by unknown black-gloved assailant(s). In this case, I think it’s not a single crazed killer, but everyone killing everyone else in order to gain ownership of the bay that all their houses border. At least it seems that way, but it was really hard to care about any of these generic characters – I barely had their names and/or relationships sorted out when they’d be hastily murdered. Dialogue was in English on my copy, and reasonably well-synced, a nice surprise (though the words themselves, and the actors speaking them, remain quite poor). And of course Bava’s got enough style – lighting and zooms and focus tricks – to keep things watchable.

Laura Betti transcends this stupid movie:

Frank and sexy secretary:

Bug Man:

Let’s see if we can piece together what happened. The movie’s only good story idea is staging the death of an elderly landowner (Isa Miranda of The Late Mathias Pascal and La Ronde) by using her own diary entry reading “I am tired. My life no longer has meaning” as a suicide note. I guess this is done by her husband Filippo, who is immediately killed by squid fisherman Simon (Claudio Camaso of John the Bastard), illegitimate son of the hanged countess. Squid Simon has a rivaly with insect hunter Paolo (Leopoldo Trieste, young husband in The White Sheik), who’s scheming with fortune teller Anna (Laura Betti, the miraculous servant in Teorema). Realty Dude Frank (Chris Avram of Voodoo Sexy) and his girlfriend/secretary are also scheming with various participants somehow. Renata (Claudine Auger of Yoyo and Thunderball) is daughter of the count and countess, I think, arriving late with her husband Albert (Luigi Pistilli of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) to claim the bay. I think these two succeed, then are shot to death by their own young kids in an epilogue, the movie’s final “fuck you” to its characters and/or viewers.

Our ignoble heroes, Renata and Albert:

Filippo beneath the Squid Thief’s slimy cargo:

Also, with no apparent connection to anything else, four young partying sex-crazed kids (including a skinny-dipping Brigitte Skay, title star of Isabella, Duchess of the Devils) break into a house on the bay and get quickly murdered.

Duchess of the Devils:

The Duchess’s boyfriend catches a machete to the face:

This movie, sometimes known as Twitch of the Death Nerve, was a relatively late film from Bava, arriving some years after his early-to-mid-60’s horror heyday. I guess the others didn’t catch on like this one, since it’s credited as one of the most influential slasher/giallo films (though I’m not sure that’s anything to brag about), with some if its deaths directly ripped off by Friday the 13th sequels.

Mia Madre (2015, Nanni Moretti)

Margherita Buy (the pope’s analyst in Habemus Papam) is in the middle of a difficult film shoot (“a lame social drama about workers occupying a factory,” per Cinema Scope) with attention-hog lead actor John Turturro while her mother Ada’s health is failing. Involved in the family crisis are Margherita’s daughter Livia, her brother Giovanni (played by the director) and two exes (I think Federico and Vittorio).

Not a straightforward crisis-drama. There are dreams and flashbacks, which aren’t always clearly defined. The emotional build is consistent, but the scenes are allowed to stand alone, not necessarily progressing narratively from each other. A standout moment was Giovanni quitting his job without real explanation or plan of what he’ll do next, just an example of the grief and confusion in the family’s lives. Apparently made as a tribute to Moretti’s own mother (a Latin teacher like Ada) who died while he was working on Habemus Papam.

Ehrlich:

It’s not just the work/life balance that this film gets so right, but also — and more crucially — how you can never master your own life to the point where a personal hardship can’t make you feel like an utter amateur.

Won a prize at last year’s Cannes, was Cahiers’ pick for film of the year, and won Buy her fifth Italian best-actress award. It’s really good.

A Bigger Splash (2015, Luca Guadagnino)

Rock goddess Tilda Swinton is relaxing at a Mediterranean island paradise with boyfriend photographer Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) when her ex, music producer Ralph Fiennes (an overpowering, charismatic performance) shows up with his newly-discovered daughter Dakota Johnson (Black Mass). Sexual and other tensions get extremely high, and the movie, which has an otherwise excellent soundtrack, tries in vain to get me to appreciate the Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue.”

I was disappointed when the story twists into murder-investigation territory after Matthias drowns a belligerent drunk Ralph in the pool, but this ends up justified. After initial interviews the chief investigator reveals himself to be a trembling Tilda superfan, gets her autograph and lets them all go. Tilda had previously, not at all convincingly, suggested to him that one of the immigrants flooding onto the island (many dying at sea) could have snuck onto the property, drowned Ralph, stolen nothing and run off. We didn’t realize that Tilda or her friends, in their wealthy bubble, even noticed the immigration crisis in the background noise around them – until it becomes useful to get themselves out of trouble.

Based on a story previously filmed by Jacques Deray with Alain Delon, and by Francois Ozon with Charlotte Rampling. Played in Venice with Anomalisa, Francofonia, Blood of My Blood and 11 Minutes. I finally warmed up to “Emotional Rescue” during the St. Vincent cover over the closing credits.

D. Ehrlich:

There are few better metaphors for the myopia of hedonism than a swimming pool on an island paradise surrounded by the sea … In lesser hands, this could’ve been a Woody Allen movie, but Guadagnino — always with his chef’s hat on — takes the ingredients for a sunbaked creampuff and slowly stirs them into a three-course meal. Working with regular cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, Guadagnino shoots in a sensual register where every shot feels just a hair too perfect to exist anywhere outside the movies. Snap zooms playfully focus on emotions that burst like firecrackers, rhythmic cuts throw you back on style whenever things risk becoming too realistic, and Marianne’s aviator shades reflect every character against their true intentions. Best of all, the soundtrack is wild and true, running the gamut from Harry Nilsson to Popol Vuh.

The Editor (2014, Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy)

In the vein of recent self-consciously faux-grindhouse movies like Machete and Hobo With a Shotgun, but this one’s a giallo imitation. Obviously brings to mind Berberian Sound Studio and Amer as well, but aiming for parody through extended reference instead of jokes. I smirked at the obvious dubbing and the Udo Kier cameo, but it comes off as a bad movie parodying bad movies. Writer/directors Brooks and Kennedy also star as the editor and the inspector, respectively, with giant mustaches, and Kennedy’s inspector throws off the balance of the acting. Most everyone plays it straight – or slightly-winking parody-straight – but the Inspector goes big, a dead ringer for Matt Berry’s cocky explorer Dixon Bainbridge on The Mighty Boosh.

Film director Francesco and the inspector:

Lot of straight razors (everybody in the movie has one) and black leather gloves and woman-slapping and flashbacks. Favorite plot point: the inspector’s wife Margarit is the first to discover the bodies of movie-in-the-movie actors Claudio and Veronica, and goes blind from the sight. Everyone makes fun of the editor all the time – he was formerly a renowned editor (there is such a thing?) but sliced off his own fingers in a rage, and now works on shitty movies with his fawning assistant Bella. Either of them would be a prime suspect for the murder spree, which soon claims substitute leading man Cesare. But could top-billed Paz de la Huerta (The Nude Woman in The Limits of Control) as the editor’s wife who is barely in the first half of the movie possibly be involved? Yes!

Didn’t play the pile of extras, just gonna appreciate the surface pleasures of the movie, like the editor beginning to see reel-change marks bleed into real life, and UDO KIER (less awesome than he was in The Forbidden Room but hey, it’s still Udo Kier).

The codirectors previously collaborated on Father’s Day, a Troma movie about a revenge-seeking man named Ahab.

The Wonders (2014, Alice Rohrwacher)

Coming-of-age movie with good reviews. I preferred The Spirit of the Beehive. Older and younger girl work on the family honey farm, compete on an awful traveling reality show hosted by Monica Bellucci (last seen in Shoot ’em Up), but don’t do very well. Also the family gets a mute foreign criminal kid to work for them, part of some rehab program, and he and the oldest girl (terrific Maria Alexandrea Lungu) have a weird kinda-friendship. Lungu has a trick where she puts a bee in her mouth and lets it crawl out, which only reminded me of the superior Limmy version. Spoiler: boy escapes, family loses the farm.

T. Charity in Cinema Scope:

Rohrwacher deftly sketches the stress points within the family, but the film’s real focus is the bond between eldest daughter and father. At the beginning of the summer Gelso is appreciative of her role as Wolfgang’s most trusted helper (as well as default child-minder), even if she’s also dimly apprehensive of her dad’s short fuse, his coercive methods, and obsessive personality. He’s the patriarch, but also an outsider in a house overflowing with women and girls (literally: he sleeps on a mattress out under the stars). Over the course of a couple of months, the film traces how the balance shifts from admiration towards a more nuanced understanding of Wolfgang’s shortcomings, a trajectory from daddy’s girl towards the first stirrings of Gelsomina’s emancipation and womanhood.

M. Sicinski’s letterboxd review is my favorite, but harder to break into quotable pieces.

Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler)

I’ve always gotten this confused with Charade (starring Audrey Hepburn with Cary Grant) and Holiday (starring a different Hepburn with Cary Grant). This one has no Cary Grant at all, just boring ol’ Gregory Peck. But Audrey is charming, and Greg is better than I’ve ever seen him, and this movie lives up to its lovely reputation.

Audrey is a princess hating her European press tour, so she sneaks off after receiving a sedative and is found, presumed drunk, on the street by noble newspaperman Greg. He shows her around Rome the next day, pretending not to know her identity, while he and cameraman Irving (Eddie Albert, the husband in Green Acres) sneak photos and pre-sell their exclusive story. But after getting to know her better, Greg respects her privacy and withholds the story, giving her the photos as souvenirs.

I’ve seen few Gregory Peck movies (Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear, Spellbound) and none in the last 15 years, so maybe he’s not so bad and I’ve had him confused with Gary Cooper or James Mason. Hepburn won best actress in this, her debut film, and it was nominated for damn near everything else but From Here to Eternity won the rest. We saw the 2002 restoration with then-blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo’s names in the opening titles. Coincidentally, a Trumbo bio starring Bryan Cranston as the Roman Holiday writer was playing next door.

Senso (1954, Luchino Visconti)

Sometimes I watch what I damn well please (The Zero Theorem, On Top of the Whale, Master of the House) and sometimes I am a slave to lists. The lists said it’s time to watch Senso, even though I hated The Leopard and this sounded similar. Since that last Leopard screening almost a decade ago I’ve come to terms with the Italians’ ignorance of proper on-set dialogue recording, and some of my new favorite filmmakers are Italian. I even gave ol’ Pasolini another chance after hating Salo in college, and was blown away by his Teorema this year. But Senso‘s a period melodrama about people who do dumb things for love, a tragedy about the downfall of the upper class, so it had a lot of strikes against it.

Alida Valli (The Third Man, The Spider’s Stratagem, mad doctor’s assistant in Eyes Without a Face) is a wanton countess in 1866 Venice whose cousin (Massimo Girotti, the father in Teorema) is involved in the rebel movement against the occupying Austrians. He gets in an argument with Austrian officer Farley Granger (Rope, Strangers on a Train), she intervenes and falls for Granger – though she’s married to a clueless count (Heinz Moog).

Clueless count:

As the war escalates, Valli betrays the revolution and Granger betrays his army – then betrays Valli, so she reports him and the film ends with his execution. Before the inevitable unhappy ending, I admit the photography could be quite dreamy. Mark Rappaport on the film’s beauty: “You don’t want to hang the images on the wall. You want to live in them.”

Rappaport:

The sets and costumes bespeak wealth, privilege, and especially the casual acceptance of them in a way that no dialogue could adequately convey. If decor is as important an element as characters, camera work, and plot in many films, in Visconti’s, the ante is upped — decor is destiny.

From the extras: aha, it’s pronounced Lu-KEE-no.

Farley cheerfully unveiling his lover:

Valli reporting on him:

Played at Venice Film Festival (obviously) alongside Seven Samurai, Sansho the Bailiff, La Strada, Rear Window and two by Bunuel, but somehow Romeo and Juliet won.

Teorema (1968, Pier Paolo Pasolini)

I’ve avoided Pasolini because I began with Salo and have never been a huge fan of Italian cinema in general. But explorations of Fellini and Rossellini have lately got me looking at the artistry beyond the sound sync problems, so fourteen years after cringing through his nazi shit-eating movie, and in the wake of Ferrara’s new film about him, it seemed time to give ol’ Pasolini another chance.

A factory owner has just transferred ownership to the workers, who are being interviewed by the media. This is a fantasy dear to the hearts of leftist French filmmakers like Godard and Marker, and I was worried it’d get all Tout va bien, but then we flash back a few months to the factory owner’s home with his wife, daughter, son and maid, beginning with a wordless b/w intro section. The magnetic Terence Stamp (same year as Toby Dammit) comes to stay with them, soon sleeps with everyone in the household, then abruptly leaves.

Stamp:

Family portrait:

The first half of the film is a long seduction (sometimes the action stops entirely, the Ennio Morricone music keeping the film alive), then in the second half each person deals with Stamp’s disappearance. Most spectacular is the maid, Laura Betti (the domineering Brunelda in Class Relations, also of 1900 and Pasolini’s Canterbury Tales), who barely speaks a few words in the movie. She leaves the house and returns to her home village, where she sits quietly in the courtyard, eating only boiled weeds and performing miracles. The rest of the family behaves in more normal (or at least movie-normal) ways: mother Silvana Mangano (of a bunch of movies set in ancient times: Oedipus Rex, Barabbas, Ulysses, Dune) starts driving into the city picking up random men and daughter Anne Wiazemsky (Au Hasard Balthazar) loses her mind and becomes catatonic. Son Pietro rents a loft and starts painting, becomes obsessed with creating new abstractions “where previous standards don’t apply… Everything must be presented as perfect, based on unknown, unquestionable rules.”

Am I crazy, or is the maid shown multiple times back at the wealthy house even after she has left for the village? Dad Massimo Girotti (Ossessione and a couple of early Rossellini features) has the last word. He gets naked in the train station on his way to work, presumably gives away his factory (it doesn’t repeat scenes from the beginning) then appears walking across a volcano, shouting in rage. We’ve seen the volcano before, an unworldly mist blowing across it, in frequent cutaways from the main action. I thought it was meant to remind us of Stromboli or Voyage to Italy, but perhaps the Italians film on volcanos all the time – Pasolini shot part of the following year’s Porcile on the same volcano, Mount Etna.

Part of Pasolini’s “Mythical Cycle” with three other films. IMDB claims Miike’s Visitor Q is a remake. Played the Venice Film Festival alongside Partner, Faces, Monterey Pop and Naked Childhood. Italy tried to censor it, of course. The catholics had mixed feelings, first giving it an award then changing their minds. I discovered the word “bourgeoise” is much better in Italian, pronounced bohr-GAZE-ee like the filmmaker.