Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Il Fiore dai petali d'acciaio / The Flower with Petals of Steel

Surgeon Andrea Valenti (Gianni Garko) has a problem: he has just accidentally killed his latest girlfriend, Daniella (Paola Senatore), after she somehow contrived to impale herself on a jagged metal sculpture, presumably the flower with the petals of steel of the characteristically enigmatic title.

Andrea takes stock of the situtation. He wanted rid of her anyway and there is no-one to suspect that she is here. Accordingly he makes use of his skills, dismembers her body, disposes of it in a vat and generally plans to act as if nothing had happened.

Needless to say, there is quickly a complication. Daniella's half-sister Evelyne (Carroll Baker), who was once also Andrea's lover, wonders where she has disappeared to and, convinced that he knows more than he is letting on, goes to the police.

Mandatory Carroll Baker shower moment

While Ispettore Garrano's investigation finds nothing to directly implicate Andrea in the crime – if indeed it is a crime, seeing as there is no body nor trace of one to substantiate Evelyne's suspicions – the circumstantial evidence mounts when it is revealed, again via Evelyne's intervention, that the womanising doctor owes his position to an advantageous marriage. Or, rather, a marriage which was advantageous to him, insofar as his wife has long been institutionalised in the asylum...

The flower

Meanwhile, Andrea receives mysterious telephone calls and incriminating photographs of the incident with Daniella...

This Italian-Spanish co-production has one major problem. It just doesn't work, being the kind of film whose surprise ending – itself a somewhat ironic and ambiguous one, the conspirators on their boat thinking themselves to have gotten away with it all whilst the authorities are at the quayside; the kind of crime does (not) pay ending that one could well imagine being reworked for different territories, moralities and censorship regimes – produces a profound sense of dissatisfaction.

Iconic image #1

Iconic image #2

Iconic image #3 (that's a black gloved hand with a blade)

Iconic image #4

Part of the issue is that neither Garko nor Baker has a character we can particularly identify with and, more importantly, that we do not really know what positions we are supposed to take towards them and the situations presented within the narrative. It is not, of course, that a giallo needs to have a single strong, positive protagonist. Four Flies on Grey Velvet's Roberto Tobias is also responsible for an accidental death after all, but at least we know that his predicament is central to the unfolding narrative. Likewise, if Death Laid an Egg encourages us to take a detached view of its quartet of conspiring bourgeois, we understand that this is what director Questi wants us to do, the rules of his particular game.

Here, by contrast, we don't know if Evelyne, who clearly knows Andrea all too well, is conspiring against him or genuinely concerned for her sister, while the simple fact of the philandering Andrea's dismembering and disposing of Daniella's body makes somewhat difficult to have any positive feelings towards whatsoever. Again, however, we don't really understand his actions from what is presented before us.

Building on these reference points, it's also the sense that writer-director Gianfranco Piccioli doesn't really have anything to say and is just going through the motions, whether it be Baker's seemingly contractual shower sequence; Garko hitting the J&B; the detective / analyst comparisons as the police inspector pays a visit to the asylum and its head, played by Umberto Raho, or the inevitable point-of-view razor slashing and pseudo-lesbian sequences.

Effective compositions highlight the ambiguity of the characters, but leave the viewer without an obvious point of reference

Are we supposed to be on the left or the right, with Baker or Garko?

You accept the directorial sleights-of-hand and plot contrivances in Argento and Questi's films because they are themselves part of these films' problematics, the way in which, for instance, if Roberto fails to realise the identity of his persecutor until it is almost too late then this is precisely because he's never really thought about this individual and their relationship until this point; or the way that his deus ex machina salvation actually comes through the hand of God(frey).

Here, however, you watch the build up to the pivotal sequence a second time and note all the false connections and misdirections but conclude that they have no purpose beyond setting up a no longer susprising surprise ending.