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Rapsodia Satanica (1915) was the last film directed by Nino Oxilia and is undoubtedly one of the finest achievements of the early Italian cinema. In it, Oxilia spins a variation on the Faust myth, embodied here by the diva Lyda Borelli. Typical of extravagant D'Annunzian aestheticism at its height, Rapsodia Satanica was one of the summits of what was later called the "tail coat film." Diametrically opposed to the "cinema of reality" practiced by Serena, Martoglio and others, "tail coat films" set their melodramatic stories in the salons and villas of the upper middle class and the aristocracy, deploying narrative structures contrived to showcase their actors and especially its actresses. This had the effect of accentuating their physical presence and turning them into stars - probably the first stars in movie history. The success of the "diva" contributed to the development of motion picture grammar in its special use of the close-up.Written by
Hard to watch today, it is a pretty amazing film in many ways.
"Satan's Rhapsody" is an early Italian silent film and there is a lot to like and appreciate about it, though I really think the casual viewer would have little interest in this silent compared to many others. This is because the filmmaker, Nino Oxilia, was not looking to make a realistic film and instead went for an artsy and overly exaggerated look and style. It looks very impressive but the overacting is a bit difficult to enjoy.
The story is essentially a Faust-like tale. The Devil (or perhaps he's one of the demons) offers to make an old woman youthful and beautiful...with one proviso...she cannot fall in love. He grants her wish and she immediately is quite vampish--so much so that two brother become infatuated with her. She isn't interested in one and toys with him....resulting in him ultimately killing himself! However, when she falls for the other, the trap is set for her.
Many scenes focus on the leading lady, Lydia Borelli, acting and often over-acting. Something that should take a few seconds often takes minutes--especially late in the film when she is playing with what looks like a bridal veil. It's very artsy and the quality of the camera work is amazing for 1917....and the film has been hand colored and is, as a result of a recent restoration, lovely. But it's also over-done and off-putting due to the director's style and acting of the leading lady.
When you compare this to Murnau's 1926 film, "Faust", it appears as if it was made decades later, as the camera work is even more spectacular and the film is much tighter and the acting more subdued. It's clearly a much better film BUT the pair would make for an interesting double-feature. Interesting and well made for its time, but ultimately its artsy style may be difficult to sustain your attention.
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