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Having been very impressed by co-director Bazzoni's subsequent "The
Fifth Cord", I have been very keen to see "The Lady of the Lake" since
I first heard of it four or five years ago when i read Adrian Luther
Smith's Excellent "Bloody and Black Lace" - a definitive collection of
giallo reviews. It appears, under the title "The Possessed" in the
obscure and rare titles section, along with a superlative review.
Subsequent attempts to track the title down were in vain, until I
popped into El Corte Ingles on my most recent Spanish holiday and found
it on Filmax's "Giallo" collection under the title "El Mujer Del Lago".
This is the only DVD outing I've ever heard of and there were both pros
(a fantastic anamorphic print) and cons (it's Spanish and Italian only,
with Spanish subs) - the cons apply as I'm an English speaker, but I
was able to manage enough Spanish (with my dictionary at hand) to
navigate through this beautiful, atmospheric film in Spanish with subs
It's as good as it's advance word suggests - an ice cool, incredibly shot mood piece which emerges as a giallo only in hindsight, as at the time it was filmed, the concept hadn't been formed and we were still four years away from the giallo cycle proper which was initiated by the box office success of Argento's "The Bird with the Crystal Plummage" and Martino's "The Case of the Scorpion's Tail" amongst others.
The plot: A writer returns to the small town where he had vacationed previously. he's keen to meet up with his former maid, Tilde, with whom he had enjoyed a romance previously. However, she isn't there and the locals are not keen on talking about why. As he goes through the town, casual encounters build up an atmosphere of menace as everyone seems to be brushing her untimely death under the carpet. The writer presses on in his investigations, seeking the facts behind her death and finding an awful lot of problems lying beneath the town's impassive surface, but in doing so unleashes the pitch black heart of darkness that lies within this film's conclusion.
In terms of style, this is far away from the post-Argento iconography of the giallo. There are no black leather gloved killers here, no stalk and slash killings. All of the (physical) violence occurs off camera. But this remains one of the most claustrophobic, oppressive films of it's time. Much of the drama unfolds within the walls of the hotel, with flashbacks, fantasies and the present unfolding in this space. The film it feels most like is Renais' "Last year At marienbad", but with a more defined narrative. I suspect a lot of the time shifts come from co-screenwriter Gulio Questi, who would later return to the editing styles shown here in his own films such as "Django Kill... If you live, shoot!". Bazzoni contributes his unnerving eye for architecture as counterpoint and subtext to the story (he's on a par with Michael Mann in this respect).
This is a film about love, all types of love, from the casual to the obsessive, and the film gradually cranks up the tension until the conclusion. I hope that a wider audience will be able to embrance this with a DVD release from an outfit such as No Shame or Blue Underground. In the meantime, I'd advise anyone who cares about atmospheric horror/ thriller cinema to pick up the Spanish release, which can be had for a remarkable price (I paid 8.95).
Some people consider this a proto-giallo. It kind of is, in the same
way The Girl Who Knew Too Much resembles a giallo, actually it's a
'woman gone missing' mystery shot in black and white where a lot of the
usual giallo tropes are absent for the simple reason they had not been
mapped down yet; the same movie made ten years later would have
probably been shot in garish Technicolor, the murders would take place
on screen and we'd be treated to the black-gloved hand of the murderer.
A lot of common giallo themes can be found here though, sexual
obsession, distorted memory, a chain of events is unlocked when a
character visits a place of his past, the boundaries between reality
and fantasy/madness blurred by something that may or may not be a
product of the mind, yet I'd place the movie closer to the
psychological horror Polanski was yet to do than Mario Bava, or a movie
that would influence the gialli of Sergio Martino more than those of
If you take it apart to study the parts it was made of, you'll find a lot of familiar ideas reconfigured together in similar ways in other movies. This is the type of movie where a fiction writer (who is "dead inside" by his own admission) arrives at a remote town by a lake to look for a girl who presumably committed suicide a year ago, the town streets are empty and there's talk of a family harboring a "terrible secret", the writer stays at an old hotel where according to the suave-creepy owner "he's the only resident" because it's off-season, at some point a photo of the dead woman is presented that throws a new light into the situation, and there's a mysterious slaughterhouse behind the hotel that looks like the abandoned warehouse Nosferatu hauls his coffin to in Murnau's 1922 film.
The movie does a lot of something I find annoying: a scene where people behave in odd ways or has a certain kind of offbeat atmosphere plays out and then we cut to a shot of the writer jolted awake in his bed back at the hotel. Bazzoni is a little too quick to point out "DREAM SCENE!!" to his audience, a little too quick to reassure the viewer that "this part that didn't make sense wasn't really supposed to" so that as the movie begins to morph into something else we're lulled back to the safe environment of the genre picture, where the protagonist can narrate his thoughts in voice-over and where 'dream scene' appears to be the director's way of saying "I want to shoot with the whites washed out".
But even that is not what it seems, because at some point we get the flashback of a memory of something that happened in one of the writer's previous stays in the hotel, the writer walks up the stairs and spies on a love scene between the dead woman and a man he can't identify, and we get extreme closeup shots of an eye watching this through a keyhole. Later this memory is expanded upon in the writer's mind and what we saw at first suddenly takes new meaning so that the love scene may had not been a love scene and the victim may had not been the victim after all, but it doesn't become clear whether this is a repressed memory unlocked by circumstance or a wish fulfillment dream, the writer furnishing a twisty conclusion worthy of one of his pulpy books to an incident that remains unexplained and ambiguous like most real life situations usually are. Fittingly this new twist feels very film noir, deceit and greed is involved and for a moment the moral universe of the film is turned on its head.
This is what I take from the Lady of the Lake, like the blurry photo that is only a magnified detail of a larger frame, the sense of mystery partially revealed to us for a moment then withdrawn from our eyes again. Now the mystery is ours, literally to inhabit the memory. Or better yet, there's a strange melancholy woman in a white coat who walks by the beachwalk every night by herself and we watch her stroll under the lamp posts from the window of our hotel room. One morning she's found dead and if only we'd have gone down there to talk to her while there was still time.
Near the end the movie shifts from eye-level Shining track shots of hotel corridors to vertical shots of the protagonist going down a spiral staircase, the whole geography is now inverted, and we're invited inside the mysterious slaughterhouse for the big reveal. There we get portrait shots steeped in shadow and claw-like hands emerging in silhouette from behind a white glass panel. It's all a bit like we're seeing the seedy industrial locations of Tetsuo through the wintry viewfinder of Sven Nykvyst, or like fetish filmmaker Maria Beatty had brought her inky blacks to the glowy diffused whites of Funeral Parade of Roses.
For the end the movie feels the need to explain itself and provide a definitive conclusion, with the villain recounting the whodunit details to the protagonist, and then in very melodramatic fashion a crazed woman is running down the beach, arms flailing wildly. The Italo-horror fan will savour the whole thing start to finish, but there's enough surreal oddity here to make even the Last Year at Marienbad crowd sit down and take notice.
A young writer Bernardo (Peter Baldwin) decides to come back to a small
town, set nearby a lake, where he had previously stayed and met a
attractive maid and waitress Tilde (Virna Lisi). The place is
desolate then, as the action takes place in winter and the tourist are
not particularly interested in this place at this part of the year.
Bernardo is in search for peace and quiet and this is why he has an
intention of having a rest there and working on his new book. However,
after some time it dawns on him that, actually subconsciously, he wants
to meet the beautiful waitress. He plans to rediscover her and starts
searching, after which he is informed by the owner of the hotel about
her mysterious death
This is often considered to be one of the
earliest examples of giallo genre, along with Blood And Black Lace
(1964). In spite of this fact, this cannot be considered, just like
later effort by Bazzoni, masterful Footprints On The Moon (1975), to be
a typical mystery that made a pattern for all films of this genre, as
it differs drastically. In addition to this, the flick is more likely
to remind Blow Up (1966) by Antonioni than The Bird With Cristal
Plumage (1969) or Deep Red (1975) by Argento. The main character
appears to be lost in the world of his own illusions and enquires
himself what is real and what is just his imagination, just like David
Hemmings in Antonioni's masterpiece. While Michelangelo Antonioni is
more interested in general subject of perception and human identity in
the world, in which being a witness is a very relative phenomenon,
Bazzoni avoids such topics and focuses on delving into Bernardo's mind.
Our protagonist himself is not a witness, he's just implicated in a
twisted affair surrounding this town. To render psychological aspect
even more visible and more articulate, the director utilizes a very
slow pace and we can hear our character's thoughts. Owing to this, the
viewer is able to follow all the vacillations of the main character and
follow all possible ways of Tinde's demise accompanying this mystery
envisioned by Bernardo. What is more, Bazzoni exploits black-and-white
cinematography which makes things even more fascinating. To sum up, all
these elements give it a very distinctive look and it is far from a
simplistic murder mystery and the film becomes a sort of a
psychological drama. At the end, nothing seems to be concluded and
unraveled in detail. In spite of the fact that Bernardo's explanation
is the most probable, there are plenty of additional subplots which
suggest that many things remain obscure and inexplicable. Thanks to an
exceptional editing, chilling sequences of dreams and flashbacks merged
together, the ensemble looks terrific.
Therefore, nothing is certain in this flick. The whole plot is shown from the Bernardo's point of view, along with his visions and dreams. This render everything not only a murder mystery, but also a great psychoanalysis of the Bernardo's mentality, exposing all his fears, desires and his vague relationship with Tilde whose personality we get to know through his memory. Thus, this subjective nature and unusual perspective make it so extraordinary and riveting. The script itself isn't the biggest advantage of this picture. If it was made by somebody else, it would possibly be a flop. Fortunately, on account of tremendous direction by Bazzoni, his visual style, exquisite taste for creating adequate atmosphere of anticipation and ambiguity, The Possessed (1965) (La donna del lago) is a true gem.
The cast is nothing special, but all of the actors manage to achieve a satisfying level of acting artistry. Peter Baldwin, a little known television actor, gives a quite decent performance. There are a couple of familiar faces: such as Phillipe Leroy, known for his roles in Yankee (1966) by Tinto Brass, and Salvo Randone from Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) by Elio Petri. Their roles are rather a minor ones, as Peter Baldwin is the most important character and the action revolves around him.
Overall, La donna del lago (1965) might not be as visually striking as gorgeous Footprints On The Moon (1975), nonetheless it's a very impressive little movie that should be more known than actually it is. The story itself is nothing really new, but the way it is executed makes this one refreshing and worth a look. Luigi Bazzoni attaches a great importance to a psychological aspect of characters in the film and owing to this outshines many other flicks in its genre. Now, it remains only a hidden gem and sadly it seems there is no possibility to popularize it in the nearest future. Pity. This deserves to be more prevalent.
'Lady of The Lake' (aka) 'The Possessed is an enigmatic, almost impenetrable quasi-giallo by the excellent, Luigi Bazzoni, the talented, intellectual auteur behind the equally idiosyncratic, almost anti-gialli 'Footsteps On The Moon'(1975). Since ''La Donna Del Lago' was also written by fellow iconoclast, Gulio 'Death Laid an Egg' Questi, one might expect a similarly oblique tone, and in terms of confounding genre conventions, he doesn't disappoint. While some might consider 'Lady of The Lake' to be just another example of overwrought nouvelle vague-esque cinematic doodling; but to dismiss this elegiac work as mere self- indulgence is to miss out of one of Italy's most singular and glacial thrillers.
The Lady in the Lake is often seen as a precursor to the Giallo style
that would reach it's peak in the early seventies; and I can certainly
see why. However, I would say that the film is closer to a supernatural
mystery film than a Giallo and it also shares a lot in common with the
popular American film noir style; stemming from it's picture, execution
and subject material. The film is very much of the high quality variety
and director Luigi Bazzoni takes time and a lot of care to ensure that
the film is haunting and mysterious as possible - which pays dividends
as the plot starts to pan out. We focus on Bernard; a writer who goes
to spend some time in a dilapidated hotel where he spent some time the
previous year. Once he gets there, he begins searching for Tilde; a
young maid he fell in love with during his previous visit, but he's
surprised by the news that Tilde killed herself. However, it would
appear that there is more to the apparent suicide as Bernard is shown a
picture suggesting she was pregnant...
The film is directed by Luigi Bazzoni, who go on to make one of the best seventies Giallo's with the excellent The Fifth Cord as well as one of the oddest genre films with Footsteps in 1975. There's also a writer's credit for Death Laid an Egg writer-director Giulio Questi, so rather unsurprisingly - The Lady of the Lake is a rather bizarre film! It starts off simple enough and the first half of the movie is pretty easy viewing, but then things start to get a bit stranger in the second half and it becomes easy to loose the plot. It's lucky then that there's more than enough to keep the audience otherwise entertained. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and the black and white picture allows the director to capture a real macabre and moody atmosphere. The town in which the film takes place is a masterpiece within itself - the ghostly local population in particular is memorable. The plot comes back together towards the end and the film does give closure to its central plot line. Overall, The Lady of the Lake will probably not please all viewers; but it's a very well made mystery and anyone that considers themselves a fan of Italian cinema should check it out!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First, let's get this out of the way... there are no zombies! No
zombie-like characters. No people under the mysterious influence. It's
a simple murder mystery with lots of intentional confusion.
Second, let me be pretentious for a minute. The dream scenes were stylish, but overwrought. The plot was thin and padded. Characters went nowhere.
OK, so what's so great? Honestly, I don't know what to tell you. The acting wasn't first-rate. The locations were passable. The directing was scattershot. The ending was too pat.
But... if you didn't read this review first, you might think you were to see a ghost story. So, from that point of view, it's both tense and a letdown. Tense, because you're waiting for the kick in the gut, a letdown because it's just another mad hatter on the loose.
Now, I saw the 82m cut, not the purported 95m, so maybe there were some boffo scenes that I missed. Probably not.
Hey, is it "proto-giallo"? I watched "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" right before this, so I'll say "maybe." 1965 isn't exactly "proto."
Recently, I had been impressed with Bazzoni's weird offering FOOTPRINTS
(1975); so, when I happened upon this even more obscure (and, by all
accounts, rarer) earlier title from him, I decided to check it out
and, boy, is it a find for Euro-Cult/Art-house buffs! The film, in
fact, can perhaps best be described as an arty semi-giallo;
interestingly, it contains several echoes to Bazzoni's later effort:
the resort town, the central hotel setting, the strange characters
encountered by the hero (in FOOTPRINTS, the bewildered protagonist was
a woman), the mystery revolving around a missing person not to
mention the deliberate (and deliberately-paced) oblique narrative.
What is immediately arresting here (in spite of the somewhat fuzzy quality of the print on display) is the supreme style allotted to the film's look which is wintry, bleak and forbidding by its two directors (incidentally, this was Rossellini's only stint in such capacity!); to this end, they wisely recruited veterans such as cinematographer Leonida Barboni (but who also adopts peculiar framing throughout, none more so that the pan in extreme close-up of a character's face with the gleaming lake for backdrop!) and production designer Luigi Scaccianoce. However, equally important to the fabric of the piece are the contributions of Renzo Rossellini (supplying an appropriately moody score) and editor Nino Baragli (whose frequent jump-cuts and seamless juxtaposition between reality, recollection and outright fantasy create a genuine and admirably disorientating effect on the viewer). Incidentally, THE POSSESSED a misleading English title but a literal translation of the original, THE LADY OF THE LAKE, would be no less ambiguous! was co-written (with Bazzoni and Franco Rossellini) by Giulio Questi; for the record, as a director in his own right, the latter went on to make such idiosyncratic yet haunting revisions of genre convention as the Spaghetti Western DJANGO, KILL IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! (1967) and the giallo DEATH LAID AN EGG (1968).
The cast is compact but exceptionally noteworthy: Peter Baldwin (very good in Dino Risi's LOVE IN ROME  here, in what I assume to be his most significant role, he's downright excellent!), Salvo Randone (as the owner of the hotel whom the hero suspects of both lechery and murder, he manages to alternate between a genial and sinister countenance throughout), Valentina Cortese (a typically fine performance, though her weather-beaten looks make it hard to convince us she's Randone's daughter even if a reasonable age gap separates the two actors!), Philippe Leroy (having appeared in so many films from the 1960s and 1970s that I've watched in recent years and, thanks also to his remarkable versatility, the French actor has become a firm favorite of mine!), Virna Lisi (while undeniably sensual, her contribution basically amounts to an extended cameo since her character, who seems to have turned the heads of virtually the entire male cast at some point, is already dead when the film opens and we only see the girl in flashback/fantasy sequences!) and Pia Lindstrom (a rare cinematic appearance by Ingrid Bergman's elder daughter being similarly steeped in mystery, alas, she too is barely given time to create a flesh-and-blood character but, then, her resultant fragile performance emerges to be all the more moving for it!).
The plot concerns an author (Baldwin) arriving off-season at a resort town he habitually retired to in order to work, hoping to meet again a servant-girl (Lisi) he's enamored of employed at the hotel run by Randone; however, he's told she's no longer there but notices that her cloak is still hanging in the closet, follows a woman in the streets he sees wearing it (and is eventually disappointed to learn the outfit now belongs to Lisi's replacement). Typically, he decides to delve deeper into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the former maid's demise still, Randone and his family (Cortese assists in the managing of the establishment while brother Leroy owns a butcher shop situated in the courtyard of the hotel itself and, coincidentally, has just returned from his honeymoon with wealthy but naïve and sickly bride Lindstrom) generally evade his probing. Even the only man who's willing to help at first a hunchbacked local photographer (I'm not sure about the actor's name but his face is awfully familiar!), who presents Baldwin with a photo in which Lisi is visibly pregnant suddenly opts out and leaves town in a hurry!; then, there's Lisi's alcoholic bum of a father who seems to have nothing of value for the hero to work on venting the anger and frustration over his daughter's loss by bursting into vitriolic (but ineffectual) nightly rants outside the hotel windows! At one point, Lindstrom makes a weak attempt to communicate with Baldwin but, before they can meet (he had previously noticed the girl walking aimlessly by the lake at night a number of times, but never quite mustered the nerve to confront her), she too is found dead! Eventually, the hero starts to think he may have gotten it all wrong: perhaps Lisi wasn't so much a victim of circumstance (periodically abused by both father and son!) as a femme fatale who got killed simply because she was too greedy.
The final revelation then, takes things in another direction altogether; while certainly effectively handled, the scene does perhaps constitute a slight let-down as it won't surprise anyone familiar with Mario Bava's THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963), actually the film credited with originating the giallo tradition, in which Cortese also features
I saw this on late-night local TV in the early 70s, tolerably dubbed,
under the title LOVE, HATE AND DISHONOR, and was immediately taken by
it's eerie, VAMPYRE-like style.
It never played on TV again, and in the late 70s to 90s I searched for it in vain. I did catch a reference to it under the title Possessed in the Encyclpedia of Horror Movies.
Finally found a poor quality English-subtitled VHS a few years back from VideoSearch of Miami and enjoyed it once again. I guess I have to add two more lines of text to meet the minimum requirement to post. I hope this is enough
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