Friday, June 12, 2009

[Italian Film Fest] What Have You Done to Solange? (Cosa Avete Fatto A Solange?)

Murder Most Foul

While reading up on the Gialli genre of Italian exploitation films, one title gets constantly mentioned as the best of the lot and that's "What Have You Done to Solange?". With staple elements such as violence, gore, horror, gratuitous nudity, dubious dubbing (yes this got to me as I was trying to figure out the actual languages used) and an excellent, suspensful score (thanks to the legendary Ennio Morricone), if anyone were to ask me whether this is worth the watch, the answer is a firm yes.

It's not just because of the shock elements as described, but essentially this film had a better than expected storyline. Loosely based on Edgar Wallace's The Clue of the New Pin, there's a superior murder mystery thriller contained which keeps you guessing throughout. For its age (some 37 years old!), it certainly had enough legs to keep you engaged, and paced itself with enough twists and turns, that kept my interest piqued in trying to figure out the red herrings, and the tangential nature of its narrative.

Starting off with an illicit affair between a married Italian language and gymnastics teacher Enrico (Fabio Testi) and beautiful student Elizabeth (another Gialli legend Cristina Galbo), their pleasure of the flesh session aboard a boat in an English river got interrupted when Elizabeth catches a glimpse of a murder in progress, witnessing a knife being plunged into the pubic regions of a semi-nude female (well, it's exploitation after all)

While both are trying hard to keep their affair a secret, and no thanks to a couple of missteps, they had to come clean with fellow peers in the school, made worst when Enrico's wife Herta (Karin Baal) happens to be a colleague as well, and the murdered victim a student of their institution. For Inspector Barth (Joachim Fuchsberger), it's the usual tying up of loose ends in a series of murders which turn up, all involving young girls and falling prey to the same modus operandi. This is where the audience will probably get the most fun out of, trying to apply contemporary sensibilities to try and solve the mystery ahead of time, but failing to do so because of Massimo Dallamano's tight direction and constant keeping of an ace up his sleeve.

The titular Solange doesn't appear until late in the movie, and from there you would have been rewarded with some clarity and semblance of the plot, which has so far been spread eagled with affairs of the heart and a whodunnit, where everything seems remotely related, and the connecting the dots is half the fun. Morricone's score is not as memorable as his works on the Sergio Leone films, but it did maintain that sense of moody, mysterious atmosphere befitting of the genre.

What Have You Done to Solange? had enlightened me that some of the frequent narrative styles used in contemporary mysteries are nothing new, given that a film four decades old have already employed. If anything, this film had my interest raised, though being one of the best out there already, I will keep in mind that others in the same era and genre might not be able to replicate the brilliance shown here.

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