Wednesday, February 27, 2019

In short: Agonizando en el crimen (1968)

The intense lovebird behaviour of Parisian students of medicine Jean (Juan Logar) and Jaqueline (Annie Sinigalia) is rudely interrupted on their wedding day, when Jaqueline comes down with something the film isn’t ever bothering to name. The surgeon of the following dangerous operation of Jaqueline’s whatever tells Jean to “trust my hands”, yet the poor girl dies anyway.

Eight months later, Jean hasn’t been able to cope with his wife’s death at all. He has broken off his studies, is avoiding his friends, and is generally squabbling with his father. Of course, given that his friends and his father are pretty horrid, we can’t blame him for that. More problematic is how Jean seems to at least half believe that Jaqueline is still alive and is somewhere waiting for him. Worse, he starts to develop the habit of murdering his old student friends (all training to be surgeons), cutting off their hands post mortem, and burying the extremities below Jaqueline’s beloved rose bushes. Oh well.

While all this certainly makes Enrique López Eguiluz’s rather obscure Agonizando en el crimen sound like an interesting Spanish giallo - partly shot in France to be even more international - the truth is the film’s obscurity is mostly deserved. The audience learns early on that Jean is the killer, so any way to have a proper whodunit is blocked, which of course doesn’t mean the film isn’t going to show us filler scenes of pointless police investigation. Alas Agonizando also isn’t trying to set up an interesting cat and mouse game.

Instead, the whole thing meanders through its running time, sometimes attempting to draw something of a psychological portrait of Jean but suffering from the tragic fact that star and writer Logar shows no psychological insight whatsoever. It’s not even the sort of weird giallo ideas about mental illness you’d expect of an early 70s film – Logar’s writing and his on-screen mugging rather suggest we are watching a film made in the 30s, and not a good one.

As an actor, Logar is completely wrong for the role in any case. Psychological subtlety is clearly beyond him but he also doesn’t show any of the charisma he’d need for a proper loud fun mad performance. What we get instead is a lot of sweating and making bug eyes. The whole thing is particularly disappointing because there is indeed an actor in the film who could have played the fun serial killer lead the film cries out for: Paul Naschy, old Waldemar Daninsky himself, has a small role as a nameless police inspector. He’d have played the hell out of this one, certainly never achieving (or trying for) psychological realism, but finding his home in the melodramatic theme of lost love leading to madness, and certainly giving the character the physicality it would have needed.

Eguiluz’s direction is mostly awkward, with little to recommend it beyond the usual clichés of 70s filmmaking, used badly. At its worst, the film doesn’t even seem to understand the concept of suspense. From time to time, usually when it’s murdering time, there is a shot or two that suggests at least an attempt at creating tension, but a couple of seconds of a shadow turning into Jean moodily creeping up a staircase doesn’t save Agonizando.

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