Sunday, 6 May 2007

Il Controfigura / Il Diavolo nel cervello

These are two rather different gialli, operating more at the psychological thriller level and emphasising character and narrative over most of the the more usual filone ingredients as they existed in the early 1970s. This also, unfortunately, has the consequence of making them more difficult to discuss without introducing spoilers to this review. What we can say, however, is that in both cases the final revelation comes as a genuine surprise yet, crucially, also makes sense within the context of the whole to give new retrospective meanings to previous actions and imparting deeper, more tragic resonances rarely seen in more run of the mill genre entries.

Both films have relatively complex narrative structures, La Controfigura / The Double beginning at the end with the death of its protagonist to proceed via flashback in classic Sunset Boulevard or Double Indemnity manner to provide the why to accompany the who that we already know; Il Diavolo nel cervello / The Devil in the Brain providing an unusually low key take on the classic primal scene type scenario - a mother walks in to find her son standing over the body of his father, smoking gun in hand - with multiple re/deconstructions of what actually happened, a la Rashomon. (Again these are not idle references, more suggesting something of the domain within which the films are operating; note also the gun rather than the blade in a black gloved hand and that no less than Suso Cecchi d'Amico collaborated with Sergio Sollima on Il Diavolo Nel Cervello's script)

As The Double unfolds we are introduced to an unusually small set of characters, most importantly the quartet of Frank - our man at the moment of dying, whose visions these are - Lucia, Nora and Eddie.

The former couple, recently married and ten years apart in age - he is 30, she barely out of her teens - are holidaying in Morocco where they meet Eddie, an English hippie, and are visited by Lucia's mother, Nora. Frank takes an immediate dislike to Eddie, whom he sees as a rival not just for Lucia's affections but also those of her mother, to whom he finds himself intensely attracted as a more sophisticated version of her daughter. (The double of the title thus has an ambiguous double / multiple meaning - Frank and Eddie, Lucia and Nora, or the various combinations thereof?)

What emerges is a tale of obsession, misunderstanding, murder and vendetta, perhaps not too dissimilar from a jet-set giallo version of Billy Budd - if you can imagine such a thing - in which the relationship of the assassin to his victim remains a mystery until the end.

The Devil in the Brain begins with Oscar returning from abroad and visiting Sandra, upon whom he is fixated. He is shocked to discover that she has no memory of him nor of her husband and son, Ricky. Investigating with the help of a psychiatrist friend, Oscar discovers that Sandra's state is the result of what she saw that fateful day. Crucially, however, the association between Ricky, the gun and his father's corpse is not quite as straightforward as it initially seemed. But if Ricky did not kill his father, then who did? And why?

Impressively put together, The Double and Devil in the Brain are the kind of gialli that could appeal to a wider audience were they to get a proper release and be marketed appropriately by some enterprising DVD company. If I had to choose one, it would be Devil in the Brain. Featuring one of Morricone's most beautiful scores it has a more transcendent resonance than somewhat time-capsule The Double. (Interestingly this is a trait that is common to the other Sollima and Guerreri films I've seen, with The Sweet Body of Deborah also being very much the product of its times whereas Sollima seems to have a facility for transferring his political concerns, as evinced by the reworking of the western The Big Gundown in contemporary guise as Revolver.)

Even in a decidedly fuzzy pan and scan transfer sourced from RAI TV, it again confirms Sollima as one of the most under-rated Italian directors. Perhaps the problem was that his films seemed too generic for the elite tastemakers of the time in that "only a western" or "only a giallo" manner. Then again, I suppose the more politically minded critics also treated the likes of Claude Chabrol - to whose Helene cycle films Devil in the Brain might also bear comparison - with similar disdain, so if nothing else we could say Sollima was in good company...

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