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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
Pupi Avati's 'The House With Laughing Windows' follows the character of Stefano, a painter who travels to a remote Italian village on a job to restore an unfinished painting depicting the persecution of St. Sebastian (who was a real Saint, by the way, only he was actually killed by arrows being shot into him, not by being stabbed with knives like the painting in the movie portrays). Upon arriving in the village, Stefano discovers that there is a lot more behind the mystery of the painting than he originally thought, and that someone will stop at nothing to make sure that Stefano does not complete the painting, further revealing the true mystery behind the town's bizarre secrets.
The movie opens with graphic, sepia toned imagery of a man being tortured in the exact same way as St. Sebastian is depicted in the painting. The genuinely creepy piano music that plays during the opening just further sets the unsettling mood for the mystery that lies ahead. The opening credits lead one to believe that the film is an all out blood bath, however, this is not the case. In fact, the most violently unsettling part of the film is the opening, that's not to say that the rest of the film doesn't contain violence, it just doesn't exist on the same level or extreme as the opening.
The rest of the film is a rather competent mystery done in true giallo fashion, and will keep you wondering what's going to happen next until the climactic finale. There are a few story elements in this movie that were either unexplained or not elaborated on, but I don't know if going as far as to call these incidents 'plot holes' would be completely correct. For instance, there is a girl Stefano is seeing at the beginning who just leaves town (disappears?) without a word. This had me thinking the whole movie that she was murdered and that her body would turn up at some point, when in fact you find out later in the film that she just simply left town, and was replaced by Stefano's next love interest, Francesca.
The movie is pretty tame in comparison to many giallo flicks like 'Tenebrae' or 'The New York Ripper', but the twists and turns should interest most fans of this sub-genre. Also, unlike most giallos, the film contains only a brief bit of nudity, but there is a scene where a woman is being forcefully molested that seems more exploitative than most scenes depicting nudity.
All in all I must say I was surprised at the quality of movie I saw. Not only was it a surprise that I haven't heard of this movie sooner, but it was also amongst some of the better plot driven giallo films I have personally seen. This movie was well paced, consisted of great camera-work and scenery, had great acting (to a non-speaker of Italian, anyway), and had a truly creepy and original plot. I recommend this film to anyone that is really into the Italian giallo sub-genre, as it may not hold the interest of the casual horror movie fan.
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