Tuesday, 10 July 2018

What have you done to Solange?

Massimo Dallamano, 1972, Italy-West Germany

Italian gym teacher Enrico “Henry” Rosseni (Fabio Testi) is drifting down the Thames (apparently) and carrying on an affair with his student Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo) when she sees a murder on the embankment. But he’s too busy trying to have his way to believe her, insisting her protestations that she witnessed something is just a tactic to avoid intimacy (but he does take “No” for an answer, albeit much perturbed). Someone is killing the girls at a school run by somewhat skeevy white middle-aged men, who Elizabeth turns to after some time rather than the police. (Wait: why does she wait…?) The first thing that Inspector Barth (Joachim Fuchsberger) does is to show the school staff explicit pictures of the girl’s body with a knife in her vagina: “It’s a necessary formality,” he says (?) – and he doesn’t even seem to have spoken to the parents as yet; and when he does, he shows the x-ray of the killing to the father (!). Anyway, when Elizabeth is murdered too, Rosseni investigates the murders (as immigrant teachers are prone to do) – which includes roughing up potential leads in the style of tough-guy cops from the movies – even as he is in conflict with his frigid wife (Karina Baal). Well, actually she becomes totally sympathetic and lets her hair down when Elizabeth is killed and is told she was a virgin. And where would the police be without Rosseni turning up where dead bodies are? But he’s never under suspicion, really. And then in the third act, Solange (Camille Keaton) herself turns up in earnest and proves the key to it all - her hair long and unkempt and her finger permanently hovering at her bottom lip to signify she isn't quite all there but yet conveying some kind of broken innocence.

“Only sixteen and surrounded by secret boyfriends, petty jealousies, orgies and lesbian games,” Rosseni laments, apparently shocked and unaware that his own affair contributes to this tapestry of scandal. "I wouldn't be surprised if they were doing the drug scene too." Of course, this also reads like a checklist for a certain male fantasy. Adele of Foxspirit gives ‘Solange’ a more feminist spin: 

"Set in London, but using Italian dialogue, What Have You Done to Solange? chafes against the restraints of the typical Giallo by contrasting the conservatism of a Catholic girls’ high school with the sexually charged atmosphere of Italian cinema."

But I always found such analysis is left a little unreinforced by the text; that it doesn’t align with the mixture of silliness and salaciousness that typifies giallo. All the females here are a response to masculine priorities with their autonomy often dismissed by the generally creepy men: a little more substance to the women would have made this more a persuasive criticism of misogyny, but the all-round shallow characterisation has no gender preference. 

Mark Edward Heuck gives context for Dallamo’s “scared schoolgirls” trilogy – but not to worry if you don’t work out the mystery because Inspector Barth will helpfully explain it all in closing, even if it’s doubtful he would have worked it all out at that point as he’s been pretty clueless all along. What we get is a parade of pretty girls and a ridiculous police procedural that isn’t convincing at all as a killer goes around murdering girls in the most lurid manner. As Kyle Anderson says, these giallo films “exist in worlds where logic in narrative doesn’t mean nearly as much as shocks and salaciousness.” Giallo doesn’t exist in realism, but in an alternative realm seemingly made of adolescent horror and fantasy, grazing against nightmare logic but never usually competent enough to truly achieve this, despite the often excellent aesthetic. Of course, you have ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Footprints on the Moon’ as examples where this does work, but ‘Solange’ is more of that which is fun for the daft character outbursts and dialogue, for the sensationalism and exploitation. But it's most confrontational framing is reserved for the abortion scene and indeed it's whole tone is more like one big tut at the goings-on of the young with a bit of a lurid cautionary tale for girls to keep their legs closed. 

What this does have less of is bad dubbing which is often part of the fun: they are dubbed but the actors are speaking English so the incongruity between the soundtrack and the visuals are less likely to induce amusement. And of course the whole sordid enterprise is given oodles of credibility and atmosphere from Ennio Morricone’s dreamy score. 


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