Monday 19 September 2016

The Bloodstained Butterfly (Duccio Tessari, 1971) Blu-Ray/DVD Review

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“I'm a smart killer, Inspector – a little smarter than all of you.” Consider the giallo genre – what springs to mind? Black-clad killers with razor knives, blood-splattering violence, and scintillating sexuality? Chances are that forensic examination of a crime scene and perspective-altering scenes of court room drama didn't crop up – but that's exactly what sets Duccio Tessari's The Bloodstained Butterfly apart from the crowd. Side-stepping many of gialli's visual clichés, nestling into a pace akin to the more thoughtful examples of the genre such as Aldo Lado's Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971), Tessari's film nonetheless paints a bleak and savage picture of inter-generational betrayal, lust, abuse, and shattered illusions...

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“The past does not exist since it is already gone by. Nor does the future exist since it is yet to come. Therefore only the present exists, but it may be composed of past and future since it is where they meet.” Seguing from a thunderous rendition of Tchaikovsky's famous Piano Concerto No. 1 into an infusion of 1970s Euro-jazz, Tessari and his co-screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici introduce the audience to the extensive cast. Scattered throughout the beautiful, sun-drenched city, we catch glimpses of the key players going about their daily lives – until we reach the local park. A rainstorm looms as a mother begs her children (clad in yellow macs that make them look like dancing butterflies) to hurry home – then a scream shatters their innocent fantasies. A little girl freezes in terror, then flees at the sight of a young woman's bloodied body tumbled down a hill amidst the trees.

“Look at him, look at his face ladies and gentlemen of court – he is accused of murdering a seventeen year old girl: Françoise Pigaut.” Wearing a distinctive jacket and hat combo, the killer hurries away as the rain begins to fall. Crossing paths with befuddled citizens – selling balloons, closing their windows, hopelessly attempting to get frisky in a Fiat 500 – the framing for the film is set: multiple witnesses only capturing fragments of the story, and we the viewer are thrown in at the deep end of the plot without a guide. The truth will out – but when, and how?

“Except for my father, I can't remember one person loving me.” Similarly finding themselves in at the deep end is television sports presenter Alessandro 'Sandro' Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia) – soon hauled in front of a Judge and put on trial for the murder of the school girl, a friend of his own daughter Sarah (Wendy D'Olive). As evidence is examined carefully – Caucasian skin under the victim's nails, staining on her jacket, train tickets in her pockets, and fingerprints on the bloodied knife – Sandro, despite a spirited defence which casts doubt on all previous assertions of the prosecution, is found guilty and thrown behind bars. But when a second murder occurs, the modus operandi startlingly similar to the case of Françoise Pigaut (Carole Andre), will a new truth be exposed?

“This tiresome provincial life saddens so many, especially you young people.” The ensemble cast are split between the young and the middle-aged – the fresh-faced upstarts, naïve and passionate versus the malaise of the bourgeois upper class – presents, at first, a story that seems to be moving in several directions at once. How do the pieces fit? There's Giorgio (Helmut Berger, Salon Kitty), a trust fund pianist struggling with inner torment and parental fatigue, who strikes up a relationship with Sarah Marchi, the well-catered-for but unloved offspring of Sandro and Maria (Ida Galli, aka Evelyn Stewart, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail), who proves to be less than helpful during her husband's trial.

Meanwhile, Inspector Berardi (Silvano Tranquilli, The Black Belly of the Tarantula) speculates theories as often as he bats away cups of machine-made coffee (too bitter, too sugary, too cold, too hot!). Is he too eager for a conviction to contemplate a possible miscarriage of justice? These are only some of the players, leading the viewer to examine the film with as much forensic detail as the police detectives charged with solving the case of 'The Park Murderer'. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, a twist spirals your theory up into the air – suffice it to say, The Bloodstained Butterfly refuses to tread a well-worn path and serves up a bitter and twisted tale.

“You think you can have whatever you please, don't you? Whatever you like you grab and you don't give a damn who you hurt!” Shot in the gorgeous old streets of Milan and Bergamo in Italy (impressive photography by Carlo Carlini, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye), Tessari's film skews away from flashy murder set pieces. The violence tends more towards the implied, or merely glimpsed, until the finale – one of the key highlights of the film. Editor Gianmaria Messeri cuts back and forth between protracted pain & vengeance and a blossoming romance, as Gianni (Death Walks At Midnight) Ferrio's heartfelt score surges against the grain of stark, cold, echoing gunshots. Beauty and tragedy clash, then blend, and finally swap places in a melodramatic crescendo that sends the camera into a flurry of incredulous whip pans. The madness of love has rarely been this crazed.

Similarly memorable is the film's best sequence – a rain-lashed crime scene at night – which changes viewpoints, transferring from a television broadcast to the wide shot view of a voyeur. Forensic examiners huddle over their tool kits and carefully assemble the evidence as Françoise’s cold body – eyes frozen in a disbelieving stare – lies motionless in the dirt. Never lurid, The Bloodstained Butterfly proves to be a classier affair than most gialli with modest profiles. Light on murder and mayhem, it is instead high on drama, characterisation, and small details that prove crucial.

“Father, our family motto reads: born a bastard to become a King … well, I never got a crack at the King.” Perhaps a touch over-long (a few scenes would benefit from the odd judicious trim) Tessari's film is nonetheless a commendable effort. Dealing with themes of ruined love, infidelity, family breakdown, and the darker side of male sexuality in middle age, The Bloodstained Butterfly is a giallo that should linger in the mind as the grim layers of the film's ultimate reveal are peeled away.

“Your silence is more eloquent than any reply.” Arrow Video's 2016 Blu-Ray/DVD combo release features an admirable visual and aural presentation, and a solid compliment of extra features. A range of interviews: Ida Galli/Evelyn Stewart (55 minutes), Lorella De Luca (8 minutes), and Helmut Berger (18 minutes), are joined by the now-staple Arrow feature the 'Visual Essay' (27 minutes), which provide a wealth of historical, technical, and academic facts. Rounding out the package are a Promo Gallery, two versions of the Trailer, an Audio Commentary with genre critics & writers Alan Jones and Kim Newman, and another Arrow staple: reversible artwork (old and new) and a booklet featuring insightful essays on the film and the giallo genre.

N.B. Screenshots are taken from the DVD copy of the film.

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