Thursday, October 18, 2012

In short: Death Will Have Your Eyes (1974)

aka Savage City

Original title: La moglie giovane

Poor, badly educated working class girl Luisa (Marisa Mell) comes to Rome hoping to find some opportunity for getting by. But the economy's bad, and even the paying jobs don't pay enough to not make a girl think if she shouldn't just make the final step from "just this side of prostitution" to the actual thing. Before it comes to that point, Luisa gets lucky. Random chance leads to her meeting rich and famous surgeon - who always wanted to become a poet - Armando (Farley Granger).

Armando falls in love with Luisa, or so he says. Surprisingly enough he even wants to marry her. Even though she doesn't really reciprocate the feeling, Luisa agrees to finally stop being poor. The class differences, their incompatible temperaments, Armando's impotence and the fact that there isn't much actual love between the two soon turns the marriage into an ordeal. It doesn't help the situation that Luisa isn't actually as mercenary as she pretends to be, so she falls in love with a younger, not impotent and more emotional colleague of Armando.

Even when Armando learns of the affair, he isn't willing to let Luisa go, so she decides to murder him. The whole murder thing starts off well enough. Soon, however, Luisa has a working-class blackmailer in her living room and has to juggle her bad conscience, said blackmailer, her boyfriend, and the police to survive.

Death's director Giovanni d'Eramo only seems to have written a handful of films, and directed two, with the film at hand being the last. It's a bit of a shame, really, for while Death isn't one of the more stylish melodramatic giallos, it's a film with an intelligent script directed with unassuming tightness.

D'Eramo's film is far from the showiness that makes the giallo in generally such a fun genre to watch. There's hardly any painful/awesome fashion, nor much psychedelic camera handling, though the film does play a bit loose with temporal structures, with a few flashbacks to keep the narrative less clear. Instead, d'Eramo uses the melodramatic thriller format to explore questions of class, with several working class characters trying to make it, only slowly realizing that class differences in the society are not just about the money, and everything's set-up to keep them unhappy whether they stay "in their place" or try to climb the social ladder. The bourgeois of the film (as in real life) on the other hand, seem to lack any true understanding of the meaning of being poor, nor do they in the end take much efforts to try to understand. Quite wonderfully, the film manages to pack this thematic baggage in without ruining its effect as a piece of genre cinema with it: it's all very organic, with theme and (simple) plot bolstering each other.

The film also gives Austrian actress Marisa Mell (as friends of Italian cult cinema will know a frequent appearance in these films) a well-deserved opportunity to do a bit more than just to flash her breasts (though we do meet those too, and I, for one won't complain). Turns out Mell is very good at giving an emotionally nuanced performance, and really drives home that her character isn't just a gold digger, or evil, or misunderstood, or a fool in love, or a victim of the class system, but a person; those, as you may have heard, can't generally be described that easily.

No comments: