Thursday, 28 June 2007

Chi l'ha vista morire? / Who Saw Her Die?

1968, the French Pyrenees: A young red-haired girl, Nicole, is abducted and murdered, her body left buried in the snow. The case is never solved.

Four years later, Venice: Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi) arrives to visit her sculptor father Francesco (George Lazenby) from London where she and her mother, Francesco's estranged wife, Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg) live.

Atypical and typical ways to open a giallo: the snowy wilderness and the plane landing in the Italian city, in this case the oft-used Venice

Then Roberta disappears. Frantic with worry, Francesco searches everywhere he can think of. Her body turns up floating in one of the canals. Yet, strangely, she has not been molested…

Who could kill a child - Nicoletta Elmi in yet another giallo

Black gloves, but not as we are accustomed to seeing them

Frustrated by the failures of the police, realising that his daughter's murder was by no means the first perpetrated by the killer, whoever he or she may be, and haunted by his own feelings of guilt – at the exact moment Roberta was snatched, Francesco was making love with his girlfriend Gabriella (Rosemarie Lindt) – Francesco embarks on his own investigation, soon uncovering a web of corruption, blackmail and perversion amongst the city's elite, including a number of his own contacts and associates from the fine art world...

Aldo Lado's second giallo makes for a more conventional filone outing than its predecessor through its psychologically motivated black-gloved killer; considerable use of the subjective camera; comparatively explicit murder scenes – excepting, of course, the taboo subject of child murder, where the focus is necessarily on the aftermath rather than the act – though still characterised by a more restrained approach than seen in many contemporaries, and more mundane world devoid of occult references.

A wordless sequence that speaks volumes: Francesco and Elizabeth re-united in their shared grief

As with Short Night of Glass Dolls, however, Lado again demonstrates a level of artistry and intelligence not always seen in the filone, along with a consistent interest in playing with the then-emergent conventions.

Like most gialli the killer is represented metonymically by fragments that identify them qua killer, but not as a specific individual. Unusually, however, Lado presents them as wearing a veil rather than a mask and fedora, knitted rather than black leather gloves and old-style women's boots, painting the picture of a harmless nonna dressed against the winter cold instead of a stylish, dressed to kill mostro.

This said, viewers familiar with the filone are likely to have little difficulty in identifying the killer from the suspects presented and will also probably experience something of a sense of deja vu as to the manner of their demise; to say much more would run the risk of spoiling things.

What is worth noting, however, is that on the featurette included on Anchor Bay's DVD, Lado mentions providing a get out clause by which the killer is not what they seemed to be purely as a way of appeasing the authorities – as with Short Night, there is the sense of a filmmaker who is subversive in more than one sense.

Who Saw Her Die? also has a distinctive rhythm to it, and one which is again perhaps more reminscent of the art cinema than the popular / vernacular, as characterised by a distracted audience impatiently awaiting the next set-piece; tellingly from reading a number of comments on the IMDB and elsewhere a criticism often levelled against the film is that it lacks pace.

Rather than entering the scene at the dramatically significant moment and cutting from one shot to the next on the point of action, Lado instead often present a pre-existing world and holds a shot for an extra beat or two, giving the film a certain documentary quality, as when Roberta's body drifts silently and disruptively into the midst of a busy market or we observe the father of one of the killer's previous victims at work in a glass factory or are left in Franco's studio, empty but haunted by his dead daughter.

Francesco's studio; note the sign on the wall

Similar directorial attention to detail is apparent in Serpieri's first visit to a suspected paedophile lawyer in some way involved with the murders. As the lawyer fingers a pendant similar to one Roberta had been given shortly before her abduction and murder, Serpieri neither seems to notice nor Lado's direction to draw attention to the gesture as one with definite significance: rather than pointing it out with a close-up or zoom in in the manner of an “obvious cinema”, he leaves it up to the spectator to notice, or not, and make a connection, or not.

Images can be deceptive

Ennio Morricone's score ranks as one of the most haunting he composed for the genre. Whereas some of his gialli scores feature three types of cue – the character leitmotif; the improvised, aleatory or otherwise technically experimental suspense cue, and the easy listening party cue – and others the first two of these, here he strips things down by providing only the first, providing a number of subtle variations on the same theme dominated by a children's choir and invariably signalling the killer's presence within or – more usually – at the periphery of the scene.

Here we can note, for instance, how the black rubber glove wearing cleaner who runs the bath – a sequence which would be the prelude to a successful or attempted drowning in most other gialli – is clearly signalled as a Hitchcockian joke by departing from the killer's fetish attire of knitted gloves, as the otherwise eerie ambient soundscape of the running water becomes less eerie precisely because of the absence of the musical leitmotif.

Simultaneously the cross-cutting in of the cue as Serpieri stalks the lawyer through the streets as the camera cuts back and forth between Serpieri's point-of-view and that of an unidentified presence following him, indicates where the real killer is at that moment.

If the monothematic nature of the score perhaps makes it a touch repetitive – a criticism that, reading some other reviews, often seems to emerge – this same repetition can also perhaps be justified as an insight into the killer's monomaniacal personality, that he or she has to kill and Serpieri's subsequent obsession, even as the latter raises the idea of an alternate score featuring an obvious Serpieri leitmotif and a kind of musical duel. (The music that plays over the wrapping up scene at the end, the killer having been unmasked and brought to justice, actually lacks the children's choir, only for it to re-emerge as the end credits roll.)

Curiously off-centre framings suggest a world out of sorts

Another nice touch is the murder of another character in a cinema, recalling the krimi Curse of the Hidden but with the difference of having the killer use a silent method – strangulation – rather than a noisy one – shooting, relying on the noise issuing from the screen to mask the fatal shot – and the screening of a mondo sexy film rather than a thriller murder mystery, to nicely tap into the situation of the viewer themself, momentarily breaching the barrier between screen and spectator and likely giving an extra frisson to the theatrical experience of the film regrettably absent on home viewing.

Alone in the dark – the assassin strikes...

Francesco arrives and realises what has happened, just as the killer exits

Whilst we can safely “play at cops and robbers” – the remarks of the representative of official authority, whose characteristic lack of effectiveness and engagement ironically signals why the protagonist's amateur, private investigation is so necessary – in a way that Serpieri cannot, we are not equally safe from those others watching the film in the dark with us or awaiting on the way back home from the cinema; the double edge of the cover provided by darkness...

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