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The House of the Laughing Windows (1976)

La casa dalle finestre che ridono (original title)
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Stefano, a young restorer, is commissioned to save a controversial mural located in the church of a small, isolated village.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Lino Capolicchio ...
Francesca Marciano ...
Gianni Cavina ...
Giulio Pizzirani ...
Bob Tonelli ...
Vanna Busoni ...
Teacher
Pietro Brambilla ...
Ferdinando Orlandi ...
Police Marshall
Andrea Matteuzzi ...
Poppi
Ines Ciaschetti ...
Concierge
Pina Borione ...
Paraplegic Woman
Flavia Giorgi ...
Arrigo Lucchini ...
Grocer
Carla Astolfi ...
Chambermaid at Boarding House
Luciano Bianchi ...
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Storyline

The restorer Stefano is hired by the Mayor Solmi of a small village nearby Ferrara to restore a painting of St. Sebastian, made by the mentally disturbed painter Buono Legnani in the local church. Stefano was recommended by his friend, Dr. Antonio Mazza, and he learns that Legnani was known as "The Painter of the Agony", since he used to paint near-death people. Further, he was presumed dead many years ago but his body has never been found. Stefano works in the church, where he meets the weirdo Lidio, and he has one night stand with the local nymphomaniac teacher that is leaving the village. Meanwhile Antonio investigates the life of Buono Legnani and tells Stefano that he had found a dark secret about the painter and the villagers. However, Antonio dies before meeting Stefano and the police conclude that he committed suicide. Stefano is intrigued by the mystery surrounds Legnani and decides to investigate more about the deranged painter. However, he in evicted of his hotel room and ... Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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16 August 1976 (Italy)  »

Also Known As:

The House of the Laughing Windows  »

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1.85 : 1
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Referenced in Adjust Your Tracking (2013) See more »

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User Reviews

Oh Sisters, Where Art Thou?
17 March 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

*Minor plot details, no actual spoilers*

Antonio, recently reacquainted with his friend Stefano who has come to renovate a fresco in the local church depicting the Martyrdom of St Sebastian, has discovered something he shouldn't. Something is rotten in the Italian backwater, but before he can divulge his suspicions he finds himself on the wrong side of a top floor window and plummets to his death while a shadow lurks behind the curtains. So far, so giallo. The gruesome work of art is apparently key to uncovering some secret harboured by the town's residents, so the bulk of the film is then devoted to delving into the bloody back-story of the deceased Artist and his two insane sisters. The main problem here is that the film finds the central mystery much more mysterious than it actually is, and doesn't seem to realise it's given most of the details away. As the Painter's story unfolds - murky as it is - the important stuff (that the gruesome acts depicted in the artist's work might be real) is either implied by the promotional blurb, the opening credits sequence or already anticipated by our over-active imaginations.

What the film sorely needs in the absence of any real action is some clarification as to what it is we're actually supposed to be intrigued by while we wait for the body count to rise. There is a throwaway line later in the film which goes a long way to informing the story as a whole, and cements in our minds the very real danger at hand, but it comes a bit late in the day. Used earlier it would have given Stefano's amateur sleuthing some much needed impetus (Antonio's is too mundane and isolated a death and seems forgotten almost immediately). What lies at the heart of the film then, once the back-story has been told (and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing) is Stefano's failure to deduce the identity of the sisters and the consequences therein. So everything depends on the final reveal. These are obviously characters we've already met - that's how these things work - but a real rapport needed to be established between Stefano and the peripheral players to give the nature of the revelation (which has been sketchily sign-posted) a much greater emotional punch when it comes. As a result the effect is diluted. Ultimately the biggest mystery is why the town is keeping its secrets in the first place.

On the plus side, coupled with the brooding atmospherics, it is lovely to look at. The camera work isn't overly elaborate but understated works in the film's favour. There are some nice shots - one in particular where Stefano walks round the side of a house with his back to it, so we discover, a moment before he does, that the title isn't simply a metaphor. A palette of greys and smoky blues blends with the thin winter light, with sparing splashes of crimson and orange ochre (emulating the look of Hitchcock's Frenzy). The artist's monologue which accompanies a retrospective sepia-tinged slaughter during the opening credits and used again later on is effectively lurid (you'll need a shower afterwards, followed by dinner and flowers) and the full extent of one haunted local's involvement with the murderous trio some thirty-odd years earlier lends the film some much needed emotional resonance. Most of all Avati deserves credit for the St Sebastian reference. It seems a pretty innocuous stylistic choice, but there is a significance here which, though not essential, provides one of the true, subtle revelations of the entire film. Provided you put two and two together and know your saints.

The House with Laughing Windows was for so long the 'lost giallo' and consequently it seems a bit of giallo envy has bolstered its reputation as a forgotten masterpiece. In terms of pure film-making that's short of the mark. There are too many uneven moments. Characters disappear ominously, then reappear without acknowledgement. Things go bump in the night which we discover second hand rather than getting to witness, and there's a curious did they/didn't they? (have it off) tryst between Stefano and the town's departing school teacher (if they did he apparently likes to keep not only his socks on but his entire dapper three-piece). That isn't to say it's a total bomb by any means either. It depends how invested you find yourself in the Painter's story, and to some extent how prepared you are to suspend disbelief. If you approach with expectations suitably tempered it'll probably do the business. Just sit back and soak up the quietly unsettling atmosphere without thinking too much, but be warned, a great time is not assured.


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