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"Love Me Strangely" is another obscure psycho-thriller that deserves to
be seen by a wider audience. It is oddly confused with 1969's "Psychout
for Murder", perhaps because both were issued on VHS in the US in 1998
on the same label but were both quickly deleted. Both films are quite
entertaining, but "Love Me Strangely" is the more polished of the two
and boasts a slightly more professional production. The plot synopsis
on this web page is more than accurate so there is no need for me to
repeat it here.
The version I have is letterboxed, and I cannot imagine seeing this film in a full screen pan-and-scan version, as too many of the carefully composed shots would be totally lost. There is lots of crisp photography, though most of the film takes place either indoors or under cloudy or rainy skies. Like most French films of the late 60's and early 70's, the soundtrack music is rock with male vocals singing the often repeated theme song "Stay". The scene that hints of Berger's character's bisexuality is very tame today, but must have been quite shocking in 1969, as also must have been the scene where Berger strips himself naked and molests his second wife, whom he has just drugged. Lead actors Berger and the ever beautiful Virna Lisi play their roles with thoughtfulness and skill, and early on in the film observing these two characters you get the idea that the ending will not be a happy one. (Lisi and cast mate Charles Aznavour also made another film for director Gobbi in 1969, a crime thriller entitled "Carbon Copy", which is not at all a carbon copy of "Love Me Strangely".) Look for a quick cameo by Jess Franco regular Howard Vernon.
To conclude, "Love Me Strangely" delivers what the title promises, a strange, perverse love story that of course turns into a horror story, and this story may be more reality-based than many viewers may choose to believe.
This glossy, starry melodrama, which seldom seems to settle on just
what kind of it wants to be, stars Visconti muse Helmut Berger as a
wealthy man who willfully drives one wife to suicide, then seduces the
equally beautiful blonde neighbor (Virna Lisi) who witnessed that
death. He then proceeds to sadistically wear at her mental and physical
health, just as he'd done before. The late shift from making Berger an
insidious playboy schemer to a vulnerable, damaged victim of his
upbringing doesn't work very well, nor can we accept Lisi's return
toward adoration of her new husband despite all her preceding abuse and
stubborn resistance to it.
Despite that, and a weak ending, this is an interesting quasi-giallo that makes good use of Berger's inherent ambiguity as a screen presence. At first we're meant to understand he's a playboy predator toward women, but it gradually (and more credibly) emerges that his sexuality is very different from the guise he assumes publicly, and which he abuses in private by manipulating women whose attentions flatter him.
So here we have Helmut Berger as a handsome, neurotic, attention-needy gay man trying to convince the world that he's a he-man. (Not that gay men can't be macho, but Berger would have a very hard time suggesting that.) You don't need to reach far to grasp the real-life parallels. You could call this movie homophobic, in its eventual psychological emphasis on a closet case who acts out his frustrations via misogyny. But the movie doesn't succumb to the blunt anti-gay stereotyping typical of the era.
Lesser roles are filled by the lies of Edith Scob, Charles Anzavour, Alain Noury, so this is an instance of major talent being expended (wasted?) on sorta-junky material. It's neither a good movie or a bad one--just an above-average European commercial effort that ultimately doesn't rise far enough above to be memorable.
A handsome man who starred in Visconti's masterworks ("La Caduti dei
Degli" "Ludwig" ) and an attractive actress make this Gobbi's thriller
watchable.Gobbi is some kind of drudge, whose films are OK when the
screenplay is.Such was the case of "Maldonne" ,the script of which was
adapted from a Boileau/Narcejac ("Diabolique" "Vertigo" ) novel ,such
is the case of "un beau monstre".
Berger has magnetism and mystery going for him and he is credible as the "handsome " monster of the title.Although warned by a cop (Charles Aznavour) ,gorgeous Lisi falls for him.And however ...he might be a modern Bluebeard...
Lisi worked again with Gobbi in the mid-seventies ,and that time,the movie was a disaster("Les galets d'Etretat" for the record).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Love Me Strangely" is a giallo without a lengthy series of killings
and without blood.
I see the giallo not as specializing in gore and sex (or nudity) but in the psychological examination of twisted characters, and that's bound to be mysterious. In this respect, I see the giallo as following up on Hitchcock's "Vertigo", "Psycho", and especially "Marnie", not with the same glossiness, budget, masterful technique or detailed sophistication, but with a freer artistic abandon. In many cases, of course, the giallo does exhibit excellent technique and sophistication.
There are times in "Love Me Strangely" when Helmut Berger, wearing a dark suit, and holding his arms stationary at his sides and with a frozen expression, reminded me of the 1920s "Nosferatu". And he ravishes his drugged wife, just as Nosferatu hovered over his prey. At any rate, he and Lisi did a wonderful job acting in this one.
The story opens by revealing Berger as a clever murderer who drives his blond wife to suicide by withholding from her a habit-forming drug that he has given her.
He then wants to do a repeat performance on Lisi. A policeman, Charles Aznavour, adds interest to the story by being suspicious. Berger marries Lisi, but doesn't have sex with her. He cannot have sex with her as a willing partner, only if she is unconscious. Meanwhile, he is also bisexual, and he likes to inflict psychological pain as well as receive it. He also is intent on fooling the police a second time. This is a twisted person.
The story is rather slow going at times, as Berger undermines his wife's stability and gets her on his favorite drug. She is reasonably plucky in trying to save herself, and in contact with Aznavour. However, when she discovers she is pregnant, that's a game changer and she pulls back to her husband who engages her sympathy. That's quite a nice piece of acting by Berger when his character goes through a striking change, or so it seems, because in an instant, he goes back to his dark and foreboding look. Lisi thinks that the love of a good woman can conquer all. Can it? Where the giallo goes is to focus and concentrate on the twisted personality at length. That's a strength. It can also be a weakness if the plot becomes slow or predictable.
Well trust the strange French to come up with a such a strange film of strange love. My print bears the title, Love Me Strangely, though, strangely enough the box has, The Last Dance of the Blonde Devil, which is really bizarre and seems to caste the blame for all the strangeness on poor Virna Lisi. She is very good, bit past her prime, but does really well with a difficult part. Helmut Berger is excellent and fully convincing as the real Mr Strange. The sexual scenes ate mild by today's standards but are still effective and must have packed a punch back in the day. I suppose the film is a little overlong but it kept me most engaged and I was surprised to find that it ran just under two hours. Always looks good, the music is very much of the time but because it is French not the best rock music in the world, but helps things along anyway. Interesting, thought provoking and more than a little creepy without veering into the horror genre. Charles Aznavour surprisingly good and if his explanation of Berger's strangeness towards the end a little pat, this is not his fault. Very enjoyable, if a little worrying.
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