Thursday, 26 March 2015

Footprints On The Moon (1975)

Dirs. Luigi Bazzoni (and Mario Fanelli)

One of the last things a viewer would expect with an Italian giallo is for the first scene to take place on the Moon, but this is the miracle of European genre films of this film's period. It doesn't  qualify as a giallo film in the conventional template either - no masked killers, no black gloves - instead Footprints On The Moon is a very eerie psychological drama. A translator Alice Cespi (Florinda Bolkan) discovers she has no recollections of the last three days since she woke up one morning. A postcard gives her a clue to visit a beach resort to uncover what is going on but it is speculated an entirely different woman was there instead of her, paranoid that people were after her. The resolution is simple and can be guessed quickly but Footprints... is an absorbing little gem plucked out of obscurity thanks to the DVD age.

It also comes off as a wonderful tribute to Brazilian actress Florinda Bolkan. Paradoxically, for all the understandable issues of sexism and/or misogyny in Italian genre cinema, there have yet been actresses in them that have stood above any scuzzy content staining the screen around them on podiums, not pin-ups but individuals who leave the male protagonists in the dirt in terms of charisma. Even when they depicted sexually in explicit ways they stood out as having a charisma and credibility that made them noble. Bolkan for me, in the few films of hers I've seen, is an unbreakable counter argument against anyone dismissing theses films as worthy sexist trash just by herself. She is not "pretty", she is beautiful. From Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture A Duckling (1972) to this film, she always comes off even dubbed as the serious character actor there for the performance. Dubbing for Italian films always catches one off-guard as hearing an actor's voice is usually the thing that one draws their attention to in terms of judging a good performance or not. Bolkan nonetheless is captivating in a film where, as the questions build up, the story becomes more claustrophobic. 

Footprints On The Moon is a ghostly film, a hazy deliberate tone attached to cinematography from probably one of the greatest cinematographers ever to exist, Vittorio Storaro, of Apocalypse Now (1979) to The Conformist (1970). Thanks to how the Italian genre industry worked in its heyday, like the Japanese one or Hong Kong's or many in all honesty, a man as talented as Storaro could work on The Conformist the same year as Dario Argento's The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). Storaro is clearly fascinated by space and the connection of people dwarfed or surrounded by said space, be it interior of rooms or the exterior of Vietnam jungle-scape. Even Dick Tracey (1990) two tone, artificial sets swamp the world of its pulp newspaper strip gangsters. Countless scenes of Footprints... is following Alice through corridors or streets or public buildings and shops where the environments add to the maze that grows when she asks questions and tries to learn what is happening, especially from a young girl (Nicoletta Elmi) she befriends, his aesthetic about the space adding to the detachment as the narrative taking place.

This is of course a very unconventional film in terms of narrative, the obvious conclusion not disappointing because the terrain to get to it is very unexpected. Footprints... automatically qualifies as a film indebted to dream logic even if by coincidence. There is of course the entire subplot surrounding the Moon, but that is a form of surrealism indebted to its original meaning, the subconscious, rather than weird images. Looking like the prototype footage to Andrzej Zulawski's On The Silver Globe (1988), with the astronauts' giant bubble helmets, shot in sepia scratched film with a dubbed Klaus Kinski unexpectedly in the centre of attention, the Moon footage is described as a film Alice walked out of halfway through because it was too intense for her, returning as a reoccurring dream in her sleep. Eventually it starts to bleed over into something more than that. It's as leftfield a plot choice as you could get for a film in this sub-genre, but that's part of its brilliance, combining two wayward and separate plot styles into something unique. The film goes as far as evoke Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of Finzi-Continis (1970) with sumptuous, harmonious flashbacks to what may be Alice's childhood, as a man (Peter McEnery) she meets becomes closer to her as they keep meeting and a possible connection is to be found between them. Footprints On The Moon takes the premise of a great short story, though it was novel by co-director Mario Fanelli if the IMDB information is accurate, a small mystery that is more concerned with the effect of the answer behind it all rather than the answer itself. That's the side to the film that can be clearly connected to the giallos, at least the good ones, in that they may be ridiculous at times but they are all about throwing you off your step in what you'd presume would happen, Footprints On The Moon taking it to a more sedate and emotionally prickly tone.

Footprints... does come with a price in that, for the British DVD release by Shameless, to create the fullest restoration possible that company had to use less than stellar materials. Unfortunately passages look like they are from videotape, the film clearly shortened for international release in its day, and the far greater issues with preserving videotape to celluloid means I pray to the cinema god a print of good quality exists or survives over the next few decades. There is also a peculiar side-effect to the shortening of the film for international release as scenes excised suddenly have Bolkan speaking in Italian with subtitles even in the dubbed version. This bygone relic of how films used to be handled is a weird viewing experience, especially for Shameless DVD releases, the most dynamic example seeing the whole Italian cut of Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975) in its English language dub, witnessing British actor David Hemmings speaking fluent Italian with Daria Nicolodi in one of the screwball comedy scenes removed that would've lost the film charm when viewed in the shorter version. For Footprints On The Moon however this hindsight mishap adds an additional later of unconscious alienation for the viewer. You cannot redub these scenes, as I can't help but imagine the result would always be an inconsistent disaster to the ears, and for Italian genre fans this feels like a rite of passage, not a problem like VHS versions of scenes, and in cases like this a film like Footprints On The Moon is given a blessing in disguise that adds to its mysterious air.  

Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium

On paper, baring the entire Moon subplot, the film is not unconventional if you think of how the plot goes forward. It means that two obvious factors have to be considered:

1) The plots for this sort of story - dualities, memory loss, mistaken identity - have an inherently abstract nature to them. Anything in a plot that is meant to disrupt normalcy or complacency for a character is clearly abstract in nature because it disrupts conventional reality. What could neuter this effect is how it is depicted from story to the next, meaning that -

2) The importance of the production around a film could've meant this was a generic giallo-lite mystery or the gem it actually is. The importance shown in creating this film through the director(s), through Vittorio Storaro's cinematography, the music by Nicola Piovani, the crew, and especially through the performance by Florinda Bolkan and her prescience to add the needed conviction. One cannot create a film with this tone well unless you succeed with creating it with the materials you have. Obvious yes, but there's plenty of failures in Italian genre cinema, made for money and/or art, that I can point to for how not following the rule wasn't common enough. The result here means the film has to be on the Abstract List.

Personal Opinion:
I think the repeated use of "gem" in this review sums up my opinion of Footprints On The Moon. The way I came about seeing it was the kind of perfect situation most film fans would want, only in the context of buying the DVD version with no idea what to expect and baring witness to the film that it turned out to be. I sadly could not see it when it first was released, but in context of it being rescued from obscurity, even if scarred by VHS quality footage, adds to the joy I had seeing the movie.

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