A bourgeois family gathers at their home by the sea for the holidays. There is Andrea (Lino Capolicchio), the neurotic student haunted by memories of his dead mother; his father, a publisher (Jose Quaglio); his new trophy and / or gold-digging wife, Mirelle (Erna Schurer), who is far closer to Andrea's age than her husband's; Mirelle's mother and, before long, her friend, Carole (Colette Descombes) and her partner Jean.
Andrea on his motorcycle, fantasising about taking a death trip
Male and female voyeurs
It soon emerges that Andrea is obsessed with and secretly spies upon Carole, whilst Mirelle – who knows of Andrea's obsession – alternatively flirts with and mocks the already confused young man.
Some of the images produced by Andrea
Later, following a party, Andrea introduces a black woman, Nivel, indicating that she is his fiancee in a bid to shock his father and stepmother: “Nivel will be a splendid wife. I want many, many children. Lots of little cannibals that eat you all up”; subsequently Nivel performs an interpretive dance in which she dresses as both a KKK man and his victim.
Playing with identity
The intrigues and games continue, gradually becoming more serious until, eventually – literally the last scene of the film – there is a murder.
Technically accomplished and well constructed, Le Tue mani sul mio corpo – i.e. your hands on my body, although with the 'you' and 'me' references remaining free floating and shifting – is a challenging film that demands more of the viewer's active involvement than is often the case, with director and co-writer Brunello Rondi preferring to make his points elliptically rather than obviously.
At the start there's a considerable degree of uncertainty over the characters' relationships to one another belied by the neat who's who summary above such that, for example, when we first see Mirelle, we're possibly inclined to think that the man she's with is her boyfriend and / or that she's Andrea's sister.
It's a strategy that works well to foreground Andrea's sexual and other confusions and makes his state more intersubjectively shared by the audience, whilst also providing a more perverse cast to the family as a whole.
The fragmentation of space and identity
Much the same can be said of the general lack of attention to time, place and state within the film, cumulatively giving a somewhat dreamlike quality to the proceedings – what is objectively real and what is in Andrea's mind's eye – and again conveying his lack of purpose and direction.
Individual scenes displaying a carefully thought and worked through mise en scène in which the placement of the characters within the frame – alas often compromised by the pan and scan presentation on the copy I watched – and the decoupage tell us as much about what is going on as the well-crafted dialogue and situations.
Pieces of the puzzle – woman as enigma and piece of meat
Thus, for example, Andrea tries to show his sophistication to the slightly older Carole by making her a cocktail, but then finds he cannot remember the recipe and, pouring her a whisky instead, fills her glass more as if it were wine, with extreme close-ups of Carole apparently returning his gaze suggesting a connection, whether real or imagined, between them.
If there's thus a definite method to the film, the question the giallo enthusiast may find himself asking is whether it is really for him, emerging as it does more as a bourgeois melodrama / psychodrama than as a thriller in the conventional sense. While it's certainly true that the likes of Lenzi's psico sexy films of the period – Colette Descombes having actually appeared in Orgasmo the previous year – also have considerable dramatic elements and a similar tendency to focus on outwardly respectable bourgeois types, they counterbalance this with conventional conspiracies motivated by passion or financial gain and a willingness to present obvious set pieces alongside the more mundane narrative. (In this regard Le Tue mani sul mio corpo is perhaps more reminiscent of Death Laid an Egg for the way in which it too fuses narrative and set-piece, albeit in a more restrained, 'tasteful' and bourgeois way than Questi and Arcalli's masterpiece of Marxist satire.)
This said, the persistent emphasis on traditional giallo scenarios of past trauma erupting into the present, of the pleasures and dangers inherent in voyeurism voyeurism, and the persistent foregrounding of blocks of yellow within the mise en scène – if there's a curtain, a towel, a telephone or piece of swimwear it is almost guaranteed to be yellow – clearly indicate that the film is sullo stesso filone, albeit in its own north by northwest manner.
Capolicchio makes us empathise and sympathise with his character even as we necessarily retain a greater degree of distance from him than we would another more typical protagonist, while Jose Quaglio – also excellent as the blind fascist ideologue in The Conformist – plays the bourgeois patriarch as if to the manner born. Erna Schurer turns in one of her better performances as Mirelle, the character demonstrating a self-awareness about what she really represents to her husband and step-son, and the actress that she possessed brains as well as beauty thereby.
Giorgio Gaslini provided the score, an effective mixture of lyrical and jazzy cues, while the cinematography by Alessandro D'Eva, art direction by Oscar Capponi and the editing by future director Michele Massimo Tarantini are uniformly accomplished, never detracting from Rondi's vision.
[Thanks again to the good folks at Cinemageddon for making the film available and doing the English subtitles.]