CUSTODES BESTIAE (2004) BY LORENZO BIANCHINI

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Keepers of the beast
Director: Lorenzo Bianchini
Writer: Lorenzo Bianchini
Year: 2004
Starring: Giorgio Basile; Edo Basso; Laura Bau

Synopsis:
A story of religious revelation and conspiracy is uncovered after a professor goes missing soon after announcing an important discovery to a journalist. Intrigued, the journalist Londero takes it upon himself to solve not only what happened to the professor but the true nature of his discovery.

Review:
Opening with an unsettling audio track, that includes the religious chanting of a choir, we find ourselves in an Udine market during March 2003. Here Professor Dal Colle is immediately drawn to an old set of photographs which he subsequently purchases. 

Despite buying it off a random woman selling a diverse assortment of goods off a table in the market he pays her the princely sum of 60 Euros and is soon on his way. Jumping forwards four days now the Professor is kicking in a decrepit underground bricked up door, behind which he finds what appears to be a chained up corpse. Here writer/director Lorenzo Bianchini is careful not to show us too much with the room being enveloped in darkness allowing us only to see what he wants us to thanks to the brief light granted by a flashing camera.

The same evening a journalist, Londero visits the home of the professor in order to learn and write about this new discovery but before he can find out about the breakthrough they are interrupted by someone at the door. Visibly panicked the Professor hides Londero in a spare room like a cheating spouse telling him to be quiet as he goes to placate the unwanted visitor before suddenly going missing.

This disappearance marks the true beginning of the mystery as over the next few days Londero remains unable to contact the Professor. Attempting to visit him at home he notices  a strange handprint burnt into the lower portion of the Professors door and then later receives a bizarre phone call inviting him  round. Clued up like all amateur detectives or investigative journalists Londero approaches with caution wary that all is not as it seems and it is not long before his suspicions are confirmed.

His investigation soon takes in local parish records, an old photography store in a small town and most importantly a fresco that the Professor was working on. Elements like this hark back, if only loosely, to the gialli of Dario Argento as well as Antonio Bido’s A BLOODSTAINED SHADOW and Pupi Avati’s HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS in the way that images play a defining role within the mystery. In fact these works by Antonio Bido and Pupi Avati also contain the same small town claustrophobia and secrecy employed here and so it is no surprise that Lornenzo Bianchini regards his film as a giallo of sorts. Certainly in the Italian sense of the word it is.

One of the many things that helps elevate CUSTODES BESTIAE above its peers is the flow of the film. As we, the viewer, follow the story alongside our main protagonist, Lorenzo Bianchini ably utilises every story telling device he can to ensure that we never jump ahead of Londero in our thought process – it is almost as if we are a sidekick with him and the few times the film does break from this, often with a POV shot of a mysterious unseen character, it is again in real time, filling in the gaps but providing us with no more information than Londero already has or will have by the next scene.

Allowing the story to develop at roughly the same pace for both the characters and the viewer provides for not only some form of parity between us but also that sense of unease as we are drawn in further and further, attempting to piece this puzzle together before it is too late.

Another notable and commendable device utilised in this film is that of the flashback, often these are randomly interjected and used for exposition telling the viewer much much more than the characters could have or would have known. Not here. At first the flashbacks are quick vague cuts, more for the senses than the mind. We hear screams and the rattling of chains before learning of a fallen priest and only as we discover more through the contemporary investigation of Londero do the meanings and full actions become apparent. This not only keeps us engaged but also has the added practical benefit of both helping maintain the films pacing while providing some visual variety for the viewer keeping the experience fresh.

Throughout the films entire 92 minute runtime the film manages to craft and maintain an eerie atmosphere thanks to the use of cinematography, light and sound.

Meanwhile the mystery itself is fantastically well crafted and it is clear that Lorenzo Bianchini is as talented in writing as he is directing, as he feeds us little breadcrumbs guiding us through the clues allowing us to discover only when he deems necessary. 

Furthermore for a film that is about subtle leading it is not afraid to mix it up with one scene in particular displaying bestial rape and another providing a genuine quick scare showing that CUSTODES BESTIAE can entertain on several levels as it builds up towards its unsettling climax.

However some viewers may find the pace a little slow, especially those looking for something like bigger budget American fare such as THE NINTH GATE or THE CONSIPIRACY which intersperse the main story with much more dynamic set pieces but that is not what this film is about and as a result it is a much more honed (or should that be horned) and unsettling effort.

Made for an estimated €3,000 Lorenzo Bianchini shows that a budget is just a number as CUSTODES BESTIAE is a terrifically crafted story that manages to overcome any budget constraints by focusing on its core values of atmosphere and intrigue. There is no doubt with the volume of cast and direct action that this was always written with the level of finance in mind and it would be fascinating to see what a talent such as Lorenzo Bianchini could do given a larger budget and the same level of freedom.

Highly recommended not just for fans of Italian cinema but also occult mysteries such as THE WICKER MAN and THE NINTH GATE. CUSTODES BESTIAE is a severely undervalued film that for whatever reason is not more widely known but is genuine example of talent over budget.

Version Reviewed:
I watched the 2006 DVD release from RHV which is presented in 1.85:1 letterbox format and with audio options in Italian or Fruilian (regional dialect of Friuli-Venezia Giulia) but thankfully subtitle options are available in both English and Italian.

Rather pleasingly for such a low budget movie the disc isn’t bare. Containing a whole host of extras such as a trailer and a condensed version of SPORCO which has been stripped down to 1m 15secs and I had no idea what the hell was going.

The disc also contains a 25 minute making of featurette (with English subtitles) which although of an appalling visual quality does a decent enough job of documenting the film and the beauty of some of the locations, such as the rural villa of the professor, and shots shine through regardless.

Bianchini discusses the differences between this film and his previous effort as well as introducing the characters and actors behind them. Additionally we are treated to an interesting look into why some of the decisions were made both in terms of story, shot compositions and even the props utilised within the film adding a genuine layer of insight into the making of process rather than just a bland backstage shaky cam footage of the actors.

One of the most interesting things to come out of this is the decision to remain shooting in the Fruilian language – and the risks associated with the use of a seemingly rural, dare we say backwards, identity that may put some off. Bianchini however saw the contrast between the simple vernacular language and the detailed mystery and images as lending the film a certain unease, a conflict in the atmosphere.  Practically meanwhile the use of local actors meant there were no issues with shooting in the dialect as this was their accent, their language and that made for the decision to be even easier. Finally, the choice of shooting in the dialect was not just artistic but financial, because of this the film was able to benefit from the support of the Province of Udine who were the only authority of any kind to lend help to the films production leading to many benefits including access to some fantastic municipal buildings.

FEMALE TOUCH (2018) BY MORGANA MAYER

Reviews

Director: Morgana Mayer
Writers: Eleonora D’Arco, Diane De la Barthe, Lucio Massa, Gughy Rossi
Year: 2018
Starring: Morena Capoccia, Giada Davinci, Ishara Gabri, Rebecca Gems

Review:
From Aborsky Produktions, the company behind the post-porn surrealism of Luigi Zanuso/Luigi Atomico’s BEYOND MADNESS and the directorial debut of Morgana Mayer, SEXUAL LABYRINTH comes FEMALE TOUCH, a film which continues the appeal towards a specific counter-culture of free thinkers.

The film is dedicated to the Italian film maker Alberto Cavallone, a man who himself flirted with surrealist eroticism in his work, and is clearly influenced by the works of Luigi Atomico and Joe D’Amato, so if those names appeal to you then this is certainly one for you but if you are still unsure read on with an open mind.

Opening with what would undoubtedly be an uncomfortable scene for almost every male, the visual representation employed here immediately overpowered the underlying message and while this attempted philosophy hinted at something deeper, something profound, for me it ultimately failed to connect. 

With this opening performance piece over and the introductory credits finished, the sexual tapestry that helps to comprise this film continues although rather surprisingly in a manner more restrained (quite literally) than perhaps one relatively new to this sub-genre would expect. The result being something strangely compelling, whether you want it to be or not.

With movies (or should that be performance pieces) like FEMALE TOUCH it is hard to describe the witnessed narrative in a literal way without losing the meaning behind it while a synopsis is clearly open to interpretation from the non-existent to the pretentious, but this way of looking at a movie is not what FEMALE TOUCH is set up to allow. It proves unconventional from whichever way you approach or classify it. An example being the glimpses of putrid and slimy flesh or organs which are interspersed seemingly at random between sexualised segments while no assistance is provided to explain or help guide you through this series of images that become more bizarre as time progresses – at least until the final two segments in which the message behind them becomes a little more overt.

FEMALE TOUCH is certainly too graphic to be an arthouse film, the scenes of female ejaculation and bondage see to that, and too artistic to be pornography (although I am not overly familiar with  the Post porn movement of which Anne Sprinkles book helped influence Morgana Mayer’s previous film SEXUAL LABYRINTH) but is something altogether different, something esoteric that exists within and for a specific underground movement. 

My interpretation is that FEMALE TOUCH is about embracing our differences and desires, about seeking individual liberation from the restrictions and containment as put into place by the status quo, the white heterosexual males, that run Western society…or something like that. 

Challenging, subversive and (potentially) with a message, FEMALE TOUCH is a great example of the question, what is art? What can be called art? And who decides?

For this viewer I found any message to be overshadowed by the methods employed, its subtext difficult to decipher, if there is indeed anything really there although much of this could have been condensed making much of the 78-minute run time more superfluous. 

Of death…of life…of many other things?

Articles and Interviews

A personal look into Dellamorte Dellamore (1994).

In 2017 a list went viral online detailing landmarks in European Queer Cinema and I was a little surprised to see Michele Soavi’s DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (aka CEMETERY MAN) listed. As aside from the sexuality of leading man Rupert Everett, which has absolutely no relation to the film or his casting, I could not see exactly how the list maker came to their conclusion.

Now, being a self-entitled millennial I obviously took to social media to debate it and to hopefully gain alternative viewpoints and interpretations of the film. Thankfully having a diverse and articulate network group I discovered several reasons behind why some agree with it falling into this queer category, such as it “daring to be non-normative” while possessing a “very queer sensibility” (@schmollywood666, 2017).

These types of discussions I believe are vital to film fans in helping us to see what others see. It allows us to challenge our own thoughts and serves to open our minds to other points of view, regardless of whether we agree or not. Ultimately this is a skill that we can and should take into our real lives.

Regardless of the movie (although the vapid dross Michael Bay creates is excluded), we can each form our own unique interpretation of what we have seen, filtered through our own experiences and thoughts to find meaning, and it is because of this I love the medium. So here, I am going to detail exactly what DELLAMORTE DELLA MORE means to me. 

It is one of those films that is clearly open to interpretation thanks to a layered approach touching on several subjects and allowing viewers to choose whether they just want to dip in and out of a titillating (no Anna Falchi jokes please) and bonkers Italian zombie flick or if they want to contemplate the existence of their own personal world and its confines. Depending on how many beers I have had I can do either. Full disclosure however, I have never read the Dylan Dog graphic novels and so that avenue at least cannot be explored by me,

Now if you are unfamiliar with this unconventional 1994 movie, then the premise itself when simplified may not sound all that much but when you begin to expand the narrative then things suddenly become a lot more abstract, philosophical and let’s be honest at times, humorous.

Fundamentally the film follows Engineer Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) and his simple assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) who work as the guardians of the Buffalora cemetery. A cemetery where for some reason approximately seven days after being buried the dead come back to life and must be put back to rest once more.

With only the child-like Gnaghi for companionship, and fed up with his lot in life – unappreciated by all of the townsfolk who are unaware of his real work and instead make snide sexual comments about him – Francesco decides that there must be something more for him out there, be it love or adventure. Anything to break the monotony and sheer futile nature of his life. After all if the dead return to life and we are all destined to die, why wait for it to happen. At this point of the movie, he feels impotent to make a change, needing a catalyst he eventually is sparked into action by the power of love. However much like his mental state, events soon unravel pushing him to his limit. And on further reflection we start to consider is his impotence related to his fear of losing his job, his identity or even his masculinity?

If you haven’t realised by now this piece is certainly not a review of the film, or at least not in the traditional format, and therefore I have no need to reiterate the praise for Mauro Marchetti’s fantastic cinematography, the memorable music by Riccardo Biseo and Manuel De Sica or even the excellent work by all of the crew regarding set and costume design. Perhaps there is room for me to reminisce about that Anna Falchi scene however, but I digress.

Right, back on track and what we do need to talk about is the terrific script by Gianni Romoli (TRAUMA), who was working from source material in terms of initial characters and set up by Tiziano Sclavi and his Dylan Dog comics – the character Dylan Dog was of course originally modelled on Rupert Everett and therefore only he could have played Francesco. Despite this, some American producers attempted to line up Matt Dillon for the role. To be fair I can see this logic from a visual perspective but this role really was handcrafted for Rupert Everett and him alone.

In his script, Gianni Romoli grants Francesco a wry, sardonic sense of humour (of which Rupert Everett skilfully delivers) while simultaneously managing to lead us through the highs and lows of our leads mental state. To do this the writer took an interesting approach ulitising a device that one does not see all that often, if ever, in Italian genre cinema – a monologue voiceover. The effect being something that comes across as a very internal, personal film – a journey. Due to this approach as the viewer we can empathise and place the actions that we witness into a much wider emotional context.

Sure, sometimes the visual representation of these ‘states’ is a little heavy handed but at other times they are open to interpretation and if I may borrow from the art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, who when describing the works of the Baroque artist Caravaggio stated that (of the artist) “He habitually collapses the immensity of the world into the confines of a room…” I feel that this also speaks of Francesco’s world and to those of us who grew up in more remote locations, where the world is limited in physical reach and scope. One may also interpret this as an internalisation due to the use of the internal dialogue.

“The rest of the world…who knows if the rest of the world even exists.”

With this point it is also important to remember that the film was made in 1994, a time when the world was not as interconnected as today, a time when you could not simply go online to communicate or learn or discover the world. It was a time when the world for most of us was only as big as our social network (and possible few foreign holidays) would allow it to be. Where events occurring even in our own continent must seem unconnected, at least directly, to our way of life. It is in this situation that, like Francesco, we are most likely to ask – does the rest of the world really exist? 

This feeling plays off the concept of object permanence and fascinates me in regards to how we see, interact and understand both our world and that of the wider one. These points incorporate our social interactions and by the final act of DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE we begin to question the very nature of the film due to the almost absurd actions of several characters, giving rise to the argument that perhaps all of this is played out in Francesco’s head. How much of this is his interpreted reality? 

We ask are the Police Marshall and Francesco’s friend Franco merely manifestations of his own mind? Perhaps in some sort of Freudian way they are elements of his conflicting psyche (the id, the ego and the super-ego) as they try to justify his ever erratic actions which culminate in his realisation and liberation.

This ending is what leads me to believe that the film is talking about how we perceive the world based on our own experiences. 

Of course there are other subjects tackled in the film; one example is the self-centred Mayor exploiting his daughter in order to win an election is extremely cynical, perhaps here the film is displaying a distrust for politicians and disillusionment of the system. This would hardly be surprising considering the Italian political system. I will leave you to discover the rest for yourself.

Ultimately for me DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE is not a horror as such but a darkly comic, bizarre, profound and stylistically violent drama. Possessing a sly, dark wit with several humorous throwaway lines peppered throughout in order to keep the film fresh and preserve a balance to the more serious topics that are touched upon.

For me this is a film about existentialism, for others it is about non-conformity (and the personal damage of appeasement) but what about for you? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter over @cinemaeuropa.

If you have not watched the film I implore you to track down a copy, remove any distractions and give it a watch. Perhaps the last great Italian genre film.

If you are in the UK the film is available from Shameless Films.

I’ll leave you with one line from Francesco You can never be too different”. So perhaps daring to be non-normative is not far off the mark at all. 

The Journey Begins…again

blog

Ciao a tutti!

Hi all, due to the contract with my old webhost (Wix) for cosiperversa.com running out and all web platforms requiring you to pay for their premium services just to use your own domain name (which also comes at a cost) I’ve decided to jack it (huh huh) in with the paid site lark, particularly as I don’t think any of them offer value for money at the level I use it for.

So with that in mind I decided to just jump across and forget the named website business and all that jazz, but most importantly cost, that comes with it and blog it up.

Although this change also marks a great opportunity to review my work so far, which varies in quality from when I started out and I will port over the good, leave the bad to rot in cyber-hell and increase my focus on European cinema which is what I had always intended to do but seem to have got lost somewhere on the way.

A presto!

Marek