Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pupi Avati's The House of The Laughing Windows (1976)

A giallo in sheep's clothing, Pupi Avati's The House of the Laughing Windows was released in 1976 and presumably set during that year; however, Avati gives the viewer very few cues that this is the case. The titular house is from an earlier era, and its mysterious occupants generated quite a few secrets, which are plaguing the living, today."My colors, my colors...they run hot in my veins" are the opening lines by an unknown narrator, spoken over a blurry, brown-hued opening sequence, where a bound man is being stabbed by two, dressed in white. The film cuts to the view from a ferry, where young Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is literally and figuratively crossing into a unknown world. His eye catches beautiful Francesca (Francesca Marciano) aboard the vessel, and she's the new school teacher. Stefano, greeted by the mayor, Solmi (Bob Tonelli), and his driver, Coppola (Gianni Cavina), arrives at the small Italian village to restore a painting in the local church, which has either been recovered or recently ruined by someone. The painting's artist was a local resident, no longer living, named Legnani. Upon first glimpse of the painting, Stefano is captivated, as what is shown is horrifying: a pale man in extreme agony, his torso filled with knives, while at his side debris covers the rest of the fresco, hiding possibly the portrait's assailants.The village is quiet, as are the residents. Stefano goes to the local hotel, where he receives a strange and threatening phone call telling him to leave. Stefano meets an old friend, Antonio (Giulio Pizzirani), at the town's only restaurant. Antonio has discovered "the strangest story ever" about a "house with laughing windows." Antonio promises to tell Stefano all that he has learned, but he never gets the chance. One evening, frantically Antonio calls Stefano and asks to meet him in Stefano's hotel room. As Stefano arrives, Antonio is seen falling from the window, where behind the curtains, the shadow of someone lingers. With his friend's death and the mysterious circumstances around the church's fresco and its artist, Stefano is finally motivated to uncover the mystery at all costs.Pupi Avati is by no means an Italian genre director, but The House of the Laughing Windows has quite a cult following by genre fans. Also with Zeder (1983) and Arcane Sorcerer (1996), Avati proves himself to be an extremely adept film maker in regards to creating an engrossing and intriguing mystery; an atmosphere of dread and foreboding; and visuals, both beautiful and horrifyingly mesmerizing. For example, subsequent to Antonio's death, Stefano must leave the hotel, because an important guest is arriving and that guest takes Stefano's room (which is revealed later to be untrue). Stefano is gratefully housed somewhere else, a villa in the countryside, where a decrepit, dying woman resides alone. Avati treats the viewer to a brilliant tracking sequence from Stefano's P.O.V. through an overgrown trail, and as the leaves scrape of the side of the camera, the villa is revealed in the daylight tinged in darkness and decay. The villa is also covered with bizarre and haunting frescoes, and at night, shadows make noises and unwelcome visitors come and go. The details of the remaining mystery should remain hidden, although I will say that it does end unpredictably and is quite satisfying.Avati also proves himself to be quite adept at creating drama. The blossoming romance between Francesca and Stefano is a welcome addition, and the scenes between the two actors seem real and natural. One of the best characters to develop throughout The House of the Laughing Windows is Coppola, the driver for the mayor. At the onset of the film, I thought that he would be another peripheral character in the village; however, his character becomes increasingly important to the plot and to the drama. Gianni Cavina gives an excellent performance as Coppola (he also co-wrote the screenplay). Cavina conveys a lot of the sadness and emotion in the film, especially in an interesting scene, where he tells Stefano about his initial meeting with Legnani. Lino Capolicchio carries The House of the Laughing Windows very well, as he is able to perform with both a youthful innocence and a reckless, impulsive abandon. Francesca Marciano, as Francesca, is always captivating on screen. She is absolutely beautiful and her performance is pitch-perfect.Pupi Avati's The House of the Laughing Windows, in my opinion, is equal to the best work of Mario Bava and Dario Argento in terms of cinematography (by Pasquale Rachini) and in atmosphere. The film has the framework of a giallo (a mystery investigated by an obsessive amateur sleuth) without all of the flourishes (no black gloves, not a lot of sexuality, nor overtly bloody violence). The House of the Laughing Windows is a captivating and rare film: an old school mystery that actually delivers. See it.

6 comments:

Samuel Wilson said...

I was definitely impressed by the film's atmosphere, and I'm probably overdue to give it a second look. Thanks for the reminder.

Hans A. said...

Samuel, thnx for reading and commenting. Of the three or four Avati films that I've seen, he has got atmosphere down pat. I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts on the film after a revisit.

Tenebrous Kate said...

I adore this movie! It's magnificent proof that a filmmaker can work with genre conventions and create a unique product. I love the inversion of the rustic and history-steeped countryside for the urban hipness of a standard giallo, and after that it's all just gorgeous, spooky gravy. Great stuff!

Hans A. said...

Thnx for reading and commenting, also, Kate. I'm glad this often overlooked film gets some appreciation.

Aaron said...

This is another film I've been wanting to check out despite the fact that the director's name is "Pupi". Great review!

Hans A. said...

Thnx, Aaron. Image Entertainment put out a pretty decent R1 disc of this. I'd love to hear your thoughts about it when you check it out.