Sunday, 8 April 2007

L' Occhio nel labirinto / The Eye in the Labyrinth

We open with enigmatic, oneiric images of a wounded man (Horst Frank) running through a maze of twisty passages, rendered alike thanks to an omnipresent blue light and disorientating expressionistic mise-en-scene.

As a hand sticks a knife into the man's back once more – filone fans should take note that this is one of the few iconographic concessions they are going to get for a while and that even here there is a perhaps telling absence of black leather gloves – the sound of a telephone rings and our protagonist, Julia (Rosemary Dexter) is rudely awoken.

Where is Lucas, asks the caller.

Julia does not know, but suggests he might be the clinic.

At the clinic there is no sign of Lucas. He went to a conference a few days ago, but the receptionist admits she thought this was just a pretext for his spending some quality time Julia.

A patient bursts in and proclaims that Lucas is in Maracudi. Exactly what this means no-one knows.

The vaguely Caligari style interiors of the titular labyrinth; any similarity is, I think, purely intentional.

Returning home, Julia finds a gunman waiting for her. He demands to know where Lucas is and once satisfied that Julia does not know calmly leaves, albeit with the threat of killing her should she go to the police.

Looking through Lucas's diary, Julia finds an entry simply marked “Maracudi” and discovers that it is a small coastal town, the kind one would not know of unless one had been there before. En route – he were may note what seems to be an emphasis on the colour yellow in the form of Julia's blouse and car and the attire of the petrol pump attendant who curious seems to have seen her before – Julia thinks she sees Lucas, only for it to turn out to be another man.

Reading the signs

In the town, a curiously empty place eerily reminiscent of one of De Chrico's metaphysical paintings, Julia enters a cafe and asks around in the hope that someone might recognise Lucas from his photograph. No-one seems to, though one of the men she asks then approaches her outside – having in the interim exchanged words and glances with another, unbeknownst to Julia – and says he can take her to him.

The man leaves Julia outside a ruined building, which she then explores; the perceptive or self-deceptive viewer may also notice that the place appears to have some uncanny similarities to the one in her dream. Someone then apparently tries to kill her with falling masonry and steals her bag. Fleeing, Julia then bumps into the mystery man from the cafe (Adolfo Celi).

An Italian word, spoken in English, with Danish subtitles; the international quality of the giallo film is matched by that of their audience today

Reading the signs once more

Explaining that she cannot go to the police on account of being a foreigner whose visa has expired – note again another giallo outsider protagonist – Julia asks him if there might be a hotel nearby. There is not, but he suggests that she might instead be able to stay with a friend, and takes her to the place, which he used to own and is now an orphanage. He also dismisses that anyone might have been trying to kill her, saying that the building is old and the man from the cafe is just the local nut. Julia, not having seen the hand that triggered the fall that could have killed her, has no particular reason to believe otherwise – she is not paranoid, after all...

Later Julia gets her bag back. Everything is there except, curiously enough, the photo of Lucas. Seeing how much finding him means to her, the mystery man then suggests that she might try at Gerda's villa – it is the place where various artists and suchlike hang out.

Arriving there after various travails, Julia is disappointed to find that Gerda (Alida Vallil) does not know any Lucas. Indeed, she wonders who might have sent Julia to her and, on hearing the mystery man's description, puts a name to his face, Frank, and identifies him as something of a rogue.

Despite not being able to help, Gerda welcomes Julia to stay the night and introduces her to some of the other inhabitants of the colony, including an avant-garde composer who tape records their conversations for the sounds they contain and a constantly bickering pair whose theatrical work gets more and more off-Broadway with each season.

That evening Julia and some of the others play scrabble. The word murder – assassino – gets played, with the camera curiously lingering on the scrabble board and then zooming in. If the meaning of this image is momentarily unclear – are we seeing this from Julia's point of view or being given another piece of the puzzle that she is not party to? – it is soon to be reappraised as the going gets ever weirder.

Looking at Gerda's bookshelf – itself a suggestion that, in her search for Lucas, Julia is operating with more heightened perceptions than normal, such that what could have been a innocuous choice of word itself becomes invested with significance – Julia notices a copy of an unusual book she gave Lucas as a gift and asks Gerda if she may look at it. Gerda refuses and, while explaining that the book was given her by her first husband, manages to do so in a way that can only further pique Julia's interest.

Someone phones for Julia but then declines to speak or identify themselves. Again, we see who it is: Frank, back in the cafe.

Julia announces that she is going to bed and that she will be leaving in the morning, which prompts Gerda to call the others; exactly for what we do not see.

While everyone else is sleeping, Julia sneaks into the lounge and takes the book off the shelf. Its front page has been removed, such that it could have been the same copy as she gave Lucas, complete with dedication. Not everyone is sleeping, however, as a man walks in with a gun, having heard a noise and wanting to check that she is not an intruder. He seems to be the same man as in the town, the one who led her to the ruined building. Julia asks him if this is is indeed the case and he responds in the negative, an answer which she accepts...

Come the next morning Julia has decided to stay. She does not, however, pursue the search for Lucas with any urgency but instead enagages in a spot of sunbathing. Her relaxation is short-lived as a youth from the village flashes the light from a mirror in her eyes and says that Frank wants to see her at the orphanage...

As signalled by its pre-credits quotation from Borges (“A labyrinth is build to bewilder the mind of man. Its architecture, however rich in symmetries it may be, is subordinate to this end”) this is another one of those aspirational arthouse/grindhouse crossover gialli that seems designed to reward attentive viewers and somewhat frustrate others.

While not quite an anti-giallo in the sense of Antonioni's otherwise somewhat comparable L'Avventura, insofar as the various enigmas are ultimately resolved and the narrative tightness does not allow for the empty spaces to be matches by anything like the same commitment to dead time, The Eye in the Labyrinth is certainly up there with the likes of Luigi Bazzoni's Footprints on the Moon, Francesco Barilli's Perfume of the Lady in Black and Pupi Avati's House with the Windows that Laughed as another quality giallo-for-people-who-do-not-like-gialli.

The operative term is, I think, overdetermination, “the idea that a single observed effect is determined by multiple causes at once, any one of which alone might be enough to account for the effect." Any time, that is, you think you have found something that does not work, or which weakens (read cheapens) the overall effect – an over-emphatic zoom, a too-significant line of dialogue etc. – you find yourself coming back to reinterpret it again as working in relation to some other emergent, immanent re-configuration.

And, if the psychoanalytic reading is the one which co-writer and director Mario Caiano himself encourages us to take it is is the very way in which his overdetermined mise-en-scene, as the consciousness of the camera becomes equivalent / indiscernible from that of the characters and the auteur – whose perspective is this; is it objective, subjective or ultimately transcendentally intersubjective – that makes the film also amenable to this kind of alternative Pasolinian interpretation, whether or not Caiano was himself aware of it. (From what I have seen of Caiano in interviews, however, I would not be surprised..)

Whatever the case – you may not share my perspective and that is much of the pleasure of interpreting texts like this – there can be no doubt about the quality of the performances (albeit with Horst Frank apparently enjoying a more prominent billing than his screen time would warrant, indicative of the German co-production involvement one suspects) and production values as a whole, with attractive cinematography and an appealing jazz score from Roberto Nicolosi.

A labyrinth that, then, paradoxically allows us to take many different routes from beginning to end – if indeed, there is ever an end...


Anonymous said...


I am trying to track down a copy of L'Occhio nel Labirinto. Any ideas on where to find it?


K H Brown said...

Try Cinemageddon: