Sunday, July 25, 2010

Forbidden Photos of a Woman Above Suspicion

Posted as part of Operation 101010
giallo / In category: 5 of 10 / Overall: 46 of 100

Despite a thematic connection with Sergio Martino’s ‘All the Colours of the Dark’ and Lucio Fulci’s ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’ in its depiction of a psychologically beleaguered heroine, Luciano Ercoli’s ‘Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion’ is in some ways an atypical giallo. Mainly in the fact that there’s no killer, black gloved or otherwise. Accordingly, the body count is low: three deaths, one offscreen (which may or may not be a suicide), the other two during the climax when (MINOR SPOILER) the villains are offed.

What ‘Forbidden Photos’ does have, and he’s as nasty a piece of work as any antagonist the genre has to offer, is the unnamed blackmailer and sex offender (Simon Andreu) who targets trophy wife Minou (Dagmar Lassander) during her sojourn at a seaside resort while her industrialist husband Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi) is away on a business trip. Unnamed characters are the bane of the reviewer’s life, and I don’t fancy typing or even copy-and-pasting “the blackmailer and sex offender” repeatedly during the next few paragraphs, so let’s call him Bob.

Bob attacks Minou while she’s taking an evening constitutional along the shore; it’s not quite rape, but definitely a sexual assault. Before letting her go, he implies that her husband is a fraud and a murderer. Upon his return, Peter puts the matter in the hands of his friend Frank (Osvaldo Genazzini), a police commissioner, and reassures Minou that she’s safe now. His assurances are vapid and less than placatory; his mind is on a crucial business deal, and besides he half believes Minou’s dependency on tranquillizers is behind her story.

Indeed, the opening sequence, containing the only voiceover in the film (unreliable narration?), has Minou decide that the time has come to stop smoking and drinking and wean herself off the tranks. Her musings accompany a montage of her getting ready, as if for a night out, only for the sequence to end as she pours a drink, pops a pill and zones out on the sofa. That Ercoli cuts straight to Minou’s evening stroll along the beach suggests her encounter with Bob could well be a product of her addled mind.

Subsequent events, however, suggest otherwise. Minou and Peter meet their old friend Dominique (Susan Scott) at a nightclub – backstory: Dominique introduced Minou to Peter, with whom she had a thing way back when – who mentions a news story about a financier dying in mysterious circumstances. The police seem to think its suicide, but Minou – aware that Peter owed the financier a debt that could have scuppered his potentially profitable deal with a German consortium – has her doubts, particularly when she realises that the circumstances could have been engineered by technology Peter’s firm was working on.

Bob reappears and plays Minou a tape that seems to implicate Peter. She tries to buy him off, but he’s not interested in money. He torments Minou, instead, with mind games and sexual demands. But is Minou, her relationship with Peter in limbo and her curiosity secretly aroused by Dominique’s free-spirited lifestyle and collection of erotica, more attracted to Bob than scared of him? Certainly, Bob’s physical similarity to Peter hints at surrogacy. Likewise, the similarities between Minou and Dominique. Both are redheads, similar height and figure. Minou berates herself at one point for dressing like a housewife and opts for a more revealing d├ęcolletage – obviously patterning herself on Dominique who has the wardrobe of a Victoria’s secret model and the va-va-voom to go with it.

Ercoli and screenwriters Ernesto Gastaldi and May Velasco have so much fun dishing out red herrings and misdirections, as well as drawing multi-layered parallels between the principals, that payoff (though well-handled) seems a little pedestrian by comparison. Still, it offers the incidental pleasure, inimical to most gialli, of a hapless copper (here Commissioner Frank) having the whole thing spelled out for him by a secondary character.

Elsewhere, though, many gialli tropes are missing. There are no elaborate and grand guignol death scenes or rooftop chases; and although Allejandro Ulloa’s cinematography is eye-catching ‘Forbidden Photos’ lacks the off-kilter compositions and hyper-stylized imagery that characterizes the most famous examples of the genre. The performances are generally good – with Andreu a stand-out – and even if Lassender doesn’t quite hit the heights of Edwige Fenech in ‘All the Colours of the Dark’, she essays the woman in peril role competently enough.

It’s weird, really. For a giallo that sounds like it ought to disappoint on so many levels, ‘Forbidden Photos’ is never less than entertaining and a decent addition to the collection.


Shaun Anderson said...

Although I wouldnt by any stretch of the imagination proclaim Luciano Ercoli an auteur, there is nevertheless a distinct thematic unity about his gialli. This one and 'Death Walks in High Heels' and 'Death Walks at Midnight' form a very thematically tight set of films. They all offer a resourceful and intelligent female protagonist challenging her patriarchal exploiters (amongst over things)...Ercoli is unfairly overlooked I think.

Neil Fulwood said...

Good point, Shaun. There's a definite thematic continuity to Ercoli's work and, while he never demonstrated the visual genius of Argento or Bava at their best, there's more to his films than mere by-the-numbers hack work. Yet somehow he seems to have slipped from critical recognition. You're right to say he's overlooked.