Sunday, October 02, 2011


Alice (Florinda Balkan) is a translator living in a minimalist apartment in a soulless city dominated by high rise buildings. Rushing to complete a translation for a midday deadline, she turns in the document only to be met with accusatory hostility by her superior. It transpires that Alice’s deadline was three days earlier. Three days that Alice has no memory of. She’s frostily informed that she disappeared from a major astronautical conference after some kind of breakdown. Her job is now in the balance.

Already brittle, Alice is also plagued by dreams of an unconscious man being abandoned on the dusty surface of the moon as part of an experiment. She seems to think the dreams are a memory of a science-fiction film she saw many years earlier entitled ‘Footprints on the Moon’, a film she rushed out of before the end and has seemingly been disturbed by for much of her adult life.

In her apartment, she finds a dress with a spot of blood on it that isn’t hers, as well as a torn up photograph of an old hotel at a coastal resort. She can recall details about the hotel, such as an oriental room with a stained-glass window depicting a peacock, but cannot recall ever having been there before. Suspended from her job, she decamps to the hotel and tries to piece together the enigma of the missing three days.

Some of the townsfolk don’t appear to recognise her. Others cast suspicious glances. A little girl staying at the hotel, Paula (played by 70s cinema’s go-to girl for creepy kid performances Nicoletta Elmi), tells Alice that her name is Nicole, that she was staying at the hotel three days ago, and that she burned something out of fear that some unknown men were watching her.

So far, so mysterious. And in a more generic giallo a slew of murders would kick in at this point and Alice would doubtless be menaced by someone in leather gloves and a gender-disguising trenchcoat and hat. But director Luigi Bazzoni, adapting a novel by Mario Fanelli, plays his string out till the end, maintaining the enigma as he delivers a final-reel explanation that still leaves a few pieces for the viewer to try to manoeuvre into the bigger picture themselves.

Devoid of gore, chases, homicidal set-pieces and, indeed, pretty much anything you’d expect from a giallo, what ‘Footprints’ does offer is a genuinely intriguing mystery, off-kilter and hauntingly memorable imagery, and an incredible sense of atmosphere. It also has a glacially brilliant central performance from Bolkan, who plays Alice as buttoned-down and wound more tightly than a watch spring. With large tranches of the film consisting of Alice wandering the empty corridors of the hotel or adrift in the lonely environs of the resort town, staring out across the sun-dappled waters with a look of pensive melancholy, the closest point of comparison is Dirk Bogarde in ‘Death in Venice’.

Vittoria Storaro’s cinematography, effectively isolating Alice in scene after scene, points up the film’s art-house credentials, while Nicola Piovani’s achingly lonely score seals the deal. “Lonely” – I keep coming back to that word; and in fact that trailer for the Shameless DVD release I watched uses the phrase “the loneliest and most haunting giallo you will ever see”. I second that. As well as functioning as a thriller and a psychological character piece, ‘Footprints’ is also a study in disconnection, its protagonist gradually detaching from profession, home, landscape and finally identity.

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