Wednesday, November 13, 2013
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Eyes of Crystal
Remember the critical platitudes that were showered upon ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ last year, and the buzz that surrounded ‘Amer’ back in 2009? Remember how both of those films were essentially art-house navel-gazing pepped up with a bit of gore? Remember how the broadsheet critics were quick to drop “giallo-inspired” into every review, like they all had framed posters of ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ on their living room walls? ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ had nothing to do with gialli while ‘Amer’ replicated certain visual tropes without capturing the pacy thrilleramics the genre traded on.
No, we have to go back to 2004 for world cinema’s most recent shot at the giallo style of old. And, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a doozy!
Eros Puglielli’s ‘Eyes of Crystal’ – the title already evoking ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ and ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ – has a swirling mystery of sexual psychodrama at its centre. It has a troubled protagonist, an enigmatic antagonist, a beautiful woman (soon to be in peril) and a cluster of gruesome murder scenes. Baroque set design abounds, particularly relation to a ‘Suspiria’-like house belonging to a collector of fetishistic curios. There’s an important clue hidden in the mists of the past. A broken doll provides a key image.
Top flight giallo material and Puglielli uses it with panache. Okay, I didn’t spot any J&B and the police in ‘Eyes of Crystal’ are definitely not the plodding incompetents typical of the genre, but who’s counting? In fact, the police are something of a force to be reckoned with here, as evidenced by a straight-into-the-thick-of-it opening in which Inspector Amaldi (Luigi Lo Cascio) and his partner Frese (Jose Angel Egido) chase down a rapist even as he’s subduing his victim. Said douchebag smirks as if he’s got the number of Rome’s best lawyer in his cellphone. “This is for when you get out,” Amaldi glowers and kneecaps him with a well-aimed shot. It’s halfway through the film before Amaldi’s backstory spells out the reason for his messianic hatred of molesters.
When attractive student Giuditta (Lucia Jimenez) swings by the police station to report a stalker, Amaldi takes her under his wing. A heavy mood hangs over the precinct. Amaldi and Frese’s colleague Ajaccio (Simon Andreu) is going into hospital and the prognosis isn’t good. Also, a triple murder – a courting couple and the old pervert who was getting his jollies watching them – has the force run ragged. Although his mind is primarily on Giuditta, it’s Amaldi who pieces together a handful of random clues and determines that the killer has some knowledge of taxidermy. He’s proved right as other bodies come to the fore, sans various body parts and sporting artificial approximations in their place.
Amaldi’s deductive prowess is further piqued by literary clues – anagrams, biblical verse, fragments of Latin – that the killer leaves, ‘Seven’-stylee, as if goading him. The suspects are as plentiful as the red herrings, with staff at Ajaccio’s hospital – and students and teachers alike at Giuditta’s university – behaving in strange ways, hiding secrets, knowing more than they let on. Puglielli puts all the pieces of the puzzle before the viewer, but shuffles them around with the misdirectional dexterity of a carny running a game of “find the lady”. That they click into place so neatly for the gothic finale is just one of the film’s pleasures.
Best of all, it isn’t merely homage. Although Sergio Martino’s ‘Torso’ provides an obvious touchstone with its “doll as stand-in for the killer’s sexual hang-ups” imagery, at no point does Puglielli attempt to borrow plot points or replicate scenes from other gialli; ‘Eyes of Crystal’ functions on its own terms and I can imagine non-giallo fans enjoying it as a well-crafted thriller. But for those of us in the know – those of us who take our killers black-gloved and our camerawork POV-heavy – it’s so much more.