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Written for the stage by camp aesthete Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, but directed for the screen by dour Marxist Roberto Rossellini, this film is a fascinating disaster. It's the wreckage left by two creative talents in head-on collision.
Vittorio Gassman plays the 'black soul' of the title, an upwardly mobile Italian who was once a bisexual rent boy. Now cosily married into the upper bourgeoisie, he and his unsuspecting wife (Annette Stroyberg) are hoping to move into a sumptuous villa he has inherited from a former male lover. Ah, but this is a movie, so sinners must be punished - however photogenic and well-dressed they may be!
Enter his dead lover's sister (Eleonora Rossi Drago) - one of those outrageously glamorous lesbians who live mainly in French and Italian films. She demands that Gassman renounce all claim to the villa, or risk exposure and public scandal. Stroyberg walks out in disgust. Our hero takes refuge with an old 'comrade in arms' - a hooker (Nadja Tiller) who's about to marry a rich American. He tells her how he survived World War II by seducing an SS officer.
Given a sympathetic director - Visconti or Bolognini or Patroni Griffi himself - Anima Nera could be powerful stuff. Rossellini is simply the wrong man for the job. He does make a half-hearted stab at high-style decadence in the obligatory 60s nightclub scene. But his one moment of inspired film-making comes right at the end...
The hero's problems solved (temporarily, at least) his bride starts lecturing him on how to be a proper husband. He presses his face to a window - as if gasping for air - a prisoner of the bourgeois world he has always aspired to.
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