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
This gender-switched version of "Faust" has an elderly countess selling her soul to the devil in order to regain her youth and beauty. The only condition is that she cannot fall in love. Once back in her splendor, however, she behaves recklessly and does indeed violate that contract, to the ruination of more than one man, and the inevitable fate for herself.
Lyda Borelli was briefly a leading Italian screen actress-I'm not sure why her movie career ended so soon after this film-and she has an interesting presence here. But often the elegantly staged film seems over-indebted to the Theda Bara school in both her theatrics and her character look, even if the protagonist is ultimately more a tragic figure than pure "vamp." It's a handsome movie that benefits from attractive settings both indoors and out, some lyrical climactic imagery, as well as lovely color tinting on the print I saw.
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