Despite creating one of the most wonderfully strange films of 1970s Italian cinema, Footprints (Le orme, 1975), director Luigi Bazzoni remains little known. His output may be scarce, five features concentrated over a 10-year period, but his intelligence and visual sophistication are unquestionable. Skirting the dominant genres of the time, two of his films are unconventional Westerns while the other three occupy the margins of giallo.
His debut The Possessed (La donna del lago, 1965) is a brooding black and white adaptation of Giovanni Comisso’s book about a 1930s murder case. Mournful writer Bernard (Peter Baldwin) travels back to a remote mountain town in search of a past love. But once at the lakeside hotel where he had met the ravishing Tilde (Virna Lisi), he is shocked to learn of her death, and soon murder plagues the town again.
Out of the sordid premise, co-scripted by Giulio Questi (who would later direct the modernist giallo Death Laid an Egg), Bazzoni weaves an oneiric, disorientating tale of memory and desire atmospherically set in a wintry, out of season resort. Combining the fatalism of film noir and the elliptical melancholy of Michelangelo Antonioni with giallo’slurid bursts of violence, The Possessed is haunted by partial glimpses of the remembered lover as Bernard seeks something that may never have existed.
Truncated perspective and a flawed investigator are also defining features of The Fifth Cord (Giornata nera per l’ariete, 1971). Alcoholic journalist Andrea (Franco Nero) trails a serial killer whose victims are alarmingly close to him. Suffocating, sumptuous interiors and vacant urban expanses frame the mysterious killer, beautiful women, deviant desires, gruesome deaths and red herrings typical of the giallo. But Bazzoni’s crisp, unusual angles isolate the characters in the inhospitable architecture of the city, focusing less on the murderer’s identity than on the difficulty of seeing it clearly.
Like Antonioni’s seminal Blow-Up (1966) and Dario Argento’s landmark giallo The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Fifth Cord is a murder story about perceptual uncertainty. It is a key theme in all three of Bazzoni’s mystery tales, which unfurl dreamlike visions of a reality not fully understood. This makes it particularly regrettable that Footprints should not be included in Arrow’s box-set, which otherwise provides a great opportunity to appreciate this undervalued maestro.
DVD: The 2K restoration gives gorgeous depth and texture to the monochrome cinematography of The Possessed and the hypnotic colours and angular spaces of The Fifth Cord. Extras include an informative commentary by Tim Lucas and a new video interview with Franco Nero.
Review published in Sight & Sound, Vol.29, no. 4 (April 2019).
Picture credit: The Possessed (Dir. Luigi Bazzoni, 1965).