Friday, 22 May 2009

Sensitivita / Kyra - La signora del lago / The House by the Edge of the Lake / etc.

Sensitivita is one of those films that is inherently intriguing on account of the likelihood of a clash between the director and his material, namely Enzo G Castellari approachinging horror-thriller material with a female protagonist and considerable sexual elements.

For Castellari is an undisputed master of no-nonsense action cinema, with his westerns, like Keoma, and crime and war films, such as The Grand Racket and The Inglorious Bastards, ranking amongst the best in their respective filone.

But he's also someone who was quick to dismiss his giallo entry Cold Eyes of Fear as an awkward piece of post-Bird with the Crystal Plumage trend following - an evaluation that perhaps sells the idiosyncratic film short - and who subsequently declined the offer of directing Zombie on the grounds that he didn't feel horror to be his forte.

Beyond this, there's the fact that even within Castellari's preferred genres his previous work had been marked by something of an awkwardness - admittedly one common to many action filmmakers - in handling more intimate material, especially in relation to male-female relationships and the sexually explicit.

The main thing to emerge from Sensitivita is that Castellari could direct a surrealistic cum absurdist nightmare to rival Argento's Inferno and Fulci's The Beyond, but with one very important caveat: It's not clear how far he had any intention to do so, nor of the extent to which there is an underlying poetic logic or symbolism to the images and events depicted.

Let's try to summarise:

As a young girl Lilian watches her mother be pulled into the lake by a hand. As a young woman she returns, on motorcycle, to the area. Riding to the lake, Lilian almost runs over a a blind girl who assembles dolls from mismatched parts. The girl gives Lilian a doll without a head - its head, rolling out onto the road, nearly precipitated their collision. At the abandoned house by the lake, Lilian is pursued by a axe-wielding figure, but escapes. She has a series of encounters, both discursive and sexual, with some of the locals, usually apparently being observed by a mysterious young woman, Lilith. After one sexual encounter - these often being accompanied by Lilith's masturbating - Lilian goes into a death-like state, whilst after another her partner dies in an accident, leading to a police investigation that goes nowhere. Everywhere the same symbol, )o(, keeps cropping up...

If it's probably the case that I missed something through watching the film in Italian I don't think English subtitling or dubbing would make things terribly much clearer. Rather, it's a film where things just happen, without definite rhyme nor reason.

But if we cannot make definite conclusions, we can begin to make interconnections, noting the way the film's images have their antecedents and descendants, that "generator" function identified by Tohill and Tombs in Immoral Tales as a key component of the European fantastique cinema of the period.

Thus, for example, Lilian and Lilith are clearly connected in both name and function, being figures of feminine power and monstrosity of the the type connoted by the monster of Jewish myth to whom the latter's name first applied.

From then we can emphasise dualistic and doppelganger ideas, that the two figures and the forces of light and dark they represent, must either combine or destroy one another, and note the particular affinities with the likes of Franco's Doriana Gray / Die Marquise von Sade, via the psychic link between the two women, there more obviously halves of the same whole as twin sisters played by the inevitable, inimitable Lina Romay; Bazzoni's The Lady in the Lake, via Sensitivita's alternate Italian title and their shared gloomy, old, small town settings; and Pensione Paura, via the shared presence of the beautiful, talented and risk-taking Leonora Fani in the lead role.

Castellari, who amusingly and tellingly cameos as the detective leading the investigation nowhere, uses about every technique in the book at some point, be it slow-motion, split-screen, shock zooms, colour filters, rapid shock edits and montages - the latter particularly to convey the significance of the )o( symbol in case we miss it - and dramatic compositions.

If the filters suggest a certain sub-Suspiria derivativeness, the use of three way split screen to showcase an exploding car is pure Castellari.

In the end, what you think of Sensitivita perhaps depends on what you think of its incoherence and the effortless way in which Castellari achieves that Euro-fantastique / Eurotrash sensibility.

I couldn't say for sure what I felt afterwards, other that that it was definitely an experience.


K H Brown said...

In interview with Paul Brown, Castellari says he's never seen the finished film, which he basically made while on holiday!

quidtum said...

Kyra was finished by Alfonso Brescia, here's a very interesting review on the movie edited by the production company later and the original cut by Castellari. Sorry, it's in Italian language only