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  Rather Complicated Girl, A Pretty Little Liar
Year: 1969
Director: Damiano Damiani
Stars: Jean Sorel, Catherine Spaak, Florinda Bolkan, Gigi Proietti, Maria Cuadra, Gabriella Boccardo, Luigi Castellato, Gino Lavagetto, Sergio Graziani, Maria Luisa Bavastro
Genre: Sex, Thriller, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Handsome hipster Alberto (Jean Sorel) accidentally eavesdrops on a steamy phone conversation between two women. It inspires erotic daydreams about sexy naked women in psychedelic body-paint doing provocative things with telephones. Later Albert meets the lovely Claudia (Catherine Spaak) in person and charms his way into her heart. After selecting the perfect record to make love to, the pair head back to Claudia's pop art styled apartment for some afternoon passion. Thereafter, unable to cope with an ailing older brother back home Alberto takes to hanging out with Claudia. They pose as talent scouts to pick up naïve young teenager Viola (Gabriella Boccardo) as a cruel excuse to probe into her sex life, share some laughs with a happy hooker (Maria Luisa Bavastro) and tangle with Claudia's violent boyfriend Pietro (popular comic actor Gigi Proietti who went on to voice the Genie in the Italian version of Disney's Aladdin (1992)!). In the process Alberto uncovers some unsettling secrets in Claudia's psychological closet, chiefly her father's widow Greta (Florinda Bolkan) whom she claims sexually exploited her as a teenager.

In some ways it is unfortunate Dario Argento and his many imitators have set in stone what many people expect a giallo to be. One imagines fans weaned on the splatter fests of the Seventies might grow infuriated with Damiano Damiani's slow-paced, heavily psychoanalytical A Rather Complicated Girl which despite abundant eroticism and psychedelic visual flourishes shuns graphic murder set-pieces to concentrate on the long psychological build-up to a single significant killing. It is not a perfect film, with a tendency to scrutinize rather than empathize with the damaged protagonists that renders things rather cold along with a nagging sense beneath the pseudo-psychological posturing lurks an old fashioned exploitation film. Yet Damiani pulls off a rather clever conceit playing around with the classic motifs of film noir murder mysteries, specifically the femme fatale luring an unsuspecting innocent man into murder. In a finale foreshadowing François Ozon's excellent art-house erotic thriller Swimming Pool (2003), in some ways, we come to reassess everything we thought we knew about characters we initially peg as 'psychotic' and 'innocent.'

Throughout the film lurks the constant sense Claudia and Pietro are cooking something sinister up for Alberto as Damiani plays around with Jean Sorel's familiar giallo image as a handsome yet hapless stooge entrapped in elaborate conspiracies: One on Top of the Other (1969) and The Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971). However Alberto carries his share of psychological ambiguities, often a passive voyeur throughout moments of sex and violence and tormented by an inability to do anything about his brother's imminent death in an admittedly ill-defined sub-plot. All the characters herein are erudite and prone to self-analysis, occasionally to the point of irritation. Alberto in particular often loses himself in long monologues pondering the mysteries of existence but these pay off in the quietly unsettling denouement. More often cast as a doe-eyed good girl Catherine Spaak shines as the enigmatic Claudia taking the place of a murder as the film's compelling central mystery. That the voluptuous singer and actress spends a fair portion of the film naked does not hurt either. Things get even steamier once future giallo staple Florinda Bolkan joins the party.

In place of graphic bloodshed Damiani serves up squirm inducing moments of psychological cruelty. Most notably the lengthy sequence where the chic, upper-middle class protagonists coerce naïve working class teenager Viola to strip off on the pretext of auditioning for a talent show. Then when Viola's angry boyfriend and leering friend intervene, the director immediately subverts any notion of moral outrage as the slobbering goons hypocritically attempt to rape Claudia by way of a "lesson." Through it all Alberto stands passive until Claudia demands he intervene leaving the viewer uncertain just who is goading who into acts of sex and violence. Damiani stands out from other commercial Italian filmmakers. For while he hopped from genre to genre much like any other workhorse his films almost always have a provocative political dimension. Most notably his excellent spaghetti western A Bullet for the General (1968) although his many crime films with Franco Nero, e.g. Day of the Owl (1968), Confessions of a Police Captain (1971) and How to Kill a Judge (1974), and powerful rape drama The Most Beautiful Wife (1970) starring a then-fourteen year old (!) Ornella Muti deliver stinging critiques of Italian society, attacking urban inequities and archaic rural traditions. In a faintly backhanded compliment Pier Paolo Pasolini called Damiani "a bitter moralist hungry for old purity" while film critic Paolo Mereghetti supposedly claimed he was "the most American of Italian directors." Which might be why Dino De Laurentiis chose him to helm the otherwise uncharacteristic Amityville II: The Posession (1982). Diamiani remained active well into the early part of the twenty-first century before his death in 2013. Many of his films were inspired by real events although A Rather Complicated Girl was based on the novel 'The March Back' by Alberto Chiava. Along with some very Sixties psychedelic dream sequences the film has a groovy soundtrack composed by Fabio Fabor with a dance-along-children's chorus that treads a perfect line between playful and ominous.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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