Saturday, April 6, 2013

In short: Libido (1965)

As a child, Christian (Giancarlo Giannini) witnessed his father killing a woman in his special mirrored sex room. Some time later, his father supposedly killed himself jumping off a cliff into the sea, as if there wasn't already enough psychological damage done to the boy. Since then, Christian has been fragile, taken from one psychiatrist to the next by his foster father and executor of his father's will Paul (Luciano "Allan Collins" Pigozzi).

Now Christian is nearly 25, married to a woman named Helene/Eilene (Dominique Boschero), and in a few months time, he will inherit his father's sizable fortune; at least, if he is of sound mind at that point. Christian, Helene, Paul and Paul's vacuous sexpot wife Brigitte (Mara Maryl) are driving out to the house of Christian's father - the place where he killed the woman, and killed himself - to take inventory of some of the estate.

Christian is soon plagued by curious phenomena that suggest that either his father to be still alive, Christian to be losing his mind in a rather spectacular manner, or someone to be trying to drive him insane to get at his money.

Ziggy Freud has a lot to answer for. Despite his psychoanalytical theories often having less to do with actual human psychology and more with Freud's own psychological fixations, the man was highly influential on all kinds of artists and all types of art even at a point when it was pretty clear how much of his theoretical apparatus was untenable. The Italian giallo did particularly like to take a bit of old Sigmund's tales in, seeing as they make a perfect pretext for an at least pseudo-intellectual mix of sex and violence, and also - perhaps just as importantly - lend themselves wonderfully to stylish visualizations, so I'm not necessarily blaming filmmakers for it.

Ernesto Gastaldi's and Vittorio Salerno's early black and white giallo Libido is as freudsploitation-y as a film can be (just look at the title!), beginning with a quote of the big man and then throwing as many elements of Freudian theory into its plot as possible. The film's first half hour or so is also a cornucopia of Freudian imagery, with more phallic and vaginal symbolism than you can shake a stick at (wait a minute…). It's the kind of film where just thinking a cigar (and why isn't there one?) might actually be a cigar would be absurd.

Once the film has acquainted the audience with the large mansion it will predominantly take place in, it calms down a bit with the loaded imagery, or maybe I was just so used to it at that point I just didn't see quite as much of it anymore. At that point, the film's other influences come to the fore: the post-Psycho psychological thriller, and Les Diaboliques, and if one is familiar with these films, the film's general gist and particular plot twists won't be much of a surprise. The film plays quite fair with the audience too, which is a fine way to avoid being annoying, but does not help against a certain obviousness.

That doesn't mean Libido isn't worth watching. While it tends to symbolic overload and suffers from a too melodramatic ending, the film is visually attractive, well paced and well acted. For me, it's a particular delight to see Luciano Pigozzi in a larger role than usual.

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