Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Mahnahén Velasco
Directed by: Luciano Ercoli
Starring: Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paolo Capponi and Simón Andreu
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
To watch Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is to watch a woman’s wildest sexual fantasies become a nightmare. It opens with its heroine, Minou (Dagmar Lassander), eagerly awaiting the return of her husband (Pier Paolo Capponi) and imagining how the scene will play out; she’ll tease him and claim to have met another man and that she wants a divorce, something she hopes will enrage him so he’ll feel compelled to take her by force. This sounds wildly outrageous until you consider it’s an early 70s giallo (sort of), so sexual tension comes with the territory, but there’s something alarmingly weird about watching her fantasize like this; many giallo films fetishize the female body, but this one even invades the mind to reveal a woman with a strange schoolgirl complex.
As she dashes off into the night (still awaiting for her husband’s return), her fantasies begin to be realized in twisted fashion when she happens upon a stranger (Simón Andreu) that begins to stalk her. Armed with a razor-tipped staff, he assaults her and threatens to rape her before dropping a hint that her husband isn’t what he seems, fingering him as a murderer before leaving Minou frazzled on the ground. Sure enough, not long after her husband’s return, the victim of an apparent murder is fished out of a river, leading her to wonder if the stranger was telling the truth or not.
We continue to invade her mind from here, as she can’t shake the accusations; she often zones out while she’s at dinner parties, and her life only becomes more torturous when the stranger keeps intruding upon her life to blackmail her for sex. While this often looks and feels like a typical and elegantly-styled giallo, with its widescreen framing that often leers at scantily-clad women and a sexily eclectic score from Ennio Morricone; however, the mystery here doesn’t revolve around people getting stabbed to death. The film’s lone death (well, until the somewhat bloody climax) may or may not even be a murder, as the waterlogged corpse that drives the action acts as the ultimate Macguffin; in fact, there seems to be little effort put into determining this, and the police are rarely involved until later in the film.
Instead, this becomes more of a cat and mouse game between Minou and the stranger, whose sole purpose is to drive the former insane--if he even exists, that is. That’s ultimately the real mystery at the center of Forbidden Photos, which flirts with being an even sexier version of Repulsion because it’s obvious that Lassander’s character is sexually frustrated in some sense, or at least a little unfulfilled. The other woman in the film (who eventually doubles as the other woman in Capponi’s life) is Dominique (Nieves Navarro), who is the free-spirited polar opposite of Minou. When she’s not actually engaging in sex, she’s dabbling in smut, and she often treats Minou like her younger, more innocent sister. She’s so nuts that she’s even a little turned on by Minou stories involving her blackmailer, whose assaults become more and more physical; Lassender is forcibly being drawn into Dominique’s perverse world, a place she’s always admired from afar, but, now, it becomes a distorted reality, one that might have been totally fabricated by Minou herself.
Her stranger is certainly presented as a demonic figure that is seemingly conjured up out of her dark fantasies, and Andreu seems quite devilish himself. Even his apartment (where he rapes Minou after blackmailing her) is an eerie, hellish den of perversion, adorned with Chinese devils and soaked in a smoldering red light. Sometimes, you wonder if Forbidden Photos isn’t going to be a keen look into how hysterical women are treated; at one point, Minou contemplates committing suicide by jumping down onto a phallic sailboat pole, and, when the authorities do get involved, they come up with a howler of a reasoning behind it all. According to them, Minou has crafted this elaborate plot to attract the attention and love of her husband, who is the type of guy who seems to enjoy his post-sex cigarette as much as the sex itself.
I really like the notion that Forbidden Photos is taking a subtle jab at this sort of thing, particularly since so many of these films are so overtly misogynist (and even this one can’t resist slapping around a woman or two); however, it can’t quite close the deal and quickly stuffs a bunch of wild twists and turns to reveal another standard plot. The eventual culprit has certainly crafted elaborate means to (hopefully) arrive at a typical end, so all of the narrative gymnastics really make this feel like a giallo. Forbidden Photos is a bit misidentified in that sense, but it’s arguable that most Italian movies about women going insane are close cousins to the full-on giallo; this one is especially dry in a visceral sense, but it’s bolstered by its sexual intensity. It’s not nearly as explicit as the later sleaze-laden take-offs would be, but it’s no less suggestive, and it’s a bit appropriate that its psycho-sexual tensions rumble like they do.
This is a movie that I wish had stayed committed to the mind-warping possibilities that it dangles; I’ll admit that it dangles them quite nicely and does so long enough to keep one intrigued, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit deflated. Still, its pedigree is solid--Morricone’s score is excellent, and Lassander and Navarro are each well suited for their roles, with the latter being an especially fiery source of combustion. Director Luciano Ercoli displays a mastery command of a camera that he would later put to better use in Death Walks at Midnight and Death Wears High Heels. Like many other early giallo precursors, this feels like a prelude to those works more than anything, but it’s a pretty good one. Blue Underground gave it a DVD release that’s light on extras (there’s only an interview with co-writer Gastaldi and a trailer), but it features an excellent presentation that does justice to the film’s dazzling visuals. This one shouldn’t be forbidden from your shelf, but just know that some of its faults aren’t above suspicion or criticism. Buy it!
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