Thursday, January 14, 2010

Joe D'Amato's Immagini di un convento (Images in a Convent) (1979)

"Sister Consolata, wake up, the devil is here," says Sister Giulia (Maria Rosaria Riuzzi), "in the convent." Sister Consolata (Paola Maiolini) rolls over, gently slides up her dressing gown, and with the look in her eyes reveals that Sister Giulia is the last to know of the arrival. Perhaps Old Scratch had always lived within and around: the local legend tells of the sisters' convent built upon pagan land, whose presence is commemorated by a horned statue in the middle of the cloister courtyard, where numerous, nefarious deeds and events have plagued the previous years. Or, perhaps the Devil was awakened and invited by the arrival of Isabella (Paola Senatore), a young Countess whose pious and righteous father has recently died. The Cardinal asks the Mother Superior, Sister Angela (Aïché Nana) to house Isabella as her dying father's wish and to protect her from her wicked uncle, Don Ascanio. Maybe there's no Devil at all, and all the lusty goings on is just natural, as the Mother Superior tells Isabella that being a nun requires an "inhumane sacrifice" of human pleasures. "Sister Marta, is terrible," says the Mother, "we are all victims of a nightmare or God has abandoned us." Based upon Diderot's La Religieuse, Joe D'Amato released his fittingly-titled Immagini di un convento (Images in a Convent) in 1979.
"I like making horror and erotic movies," says D'Amato (during his interview in the documentary, "Joe D'Amato: Totally Uncut," included as a supplement on the Media Blasters DVD release of Images in a Convent), "because I like to shock my audience. When you go and watch a movie, you have to be involved in it. To shock the audience is the best way to involve them." As to whether shocking the audience is the best way to involve a viewing audience is debatable; yet this method can be extremely effective in creating memorable images. Images are what Images in a Convent are about, despite having a famous, controversial, and thought-provoking work as the inspiration for its narrative. D'Amato shot Images (and credits reveal D'Amato used his real name in this position), and its images are where the film excels. Save one sequence, Images perhaps lacks the ability to shock today (as to whether it was shocking in 1979, few would know: "it was a box-office bomb in its country of origin," writes Steve Fentone in his AntiCristo: The Bible of Nasty Nun Sinema & Culture.). Nonetheless, Images is a prime example of D'Amato's adeptness at creating erotic cinema, and within the film, he recites quite a litany of steamy sequences and cleverly-crafted satanic scenes, all beautifully rendered.Images is shot with soft light. The authentic hilltop location adds to its atmosphere of seclusion, beyond its natural beauty as surroundings. The horned statue, when shown, is always focal in D'Amato's compositions. Within minutes (after the exposition), the viewer gets treated to Senatore's Isabella (the actress with whom D'Amato had worked previously on The Ladies' Doctor (1977) and Emanuelle in America (1977), for example) having an intense dream as a handsome older gentleman unites with Isabella in the hallway of the cloister (the identity of this man is revealed later, and its revelation is a clever touch). These two embrace and take it slow, as does D'Amato with slower-motion photography, while Nico Fidenco's beautiful score sets the mood. With an odd silence, the music abruptly stops, and an odd audio distortion disrupts the soundtrack, followed by sounds of gushing winds. The two lovers do not let up, as the imagery continues with them. In a staggering of images, D'Amato, seemingly randomly, cuts between the two lovers with long shots of the empty hallway. The odd sequencing and non-syncing of the two lovers, the audio shifts, and the hallway quick shots are disorienting and quite effective and creepy. Isabella's dream is just the beginning of the night, as within Images and its first two acts, one sexual act inspires another. Always intimate scenes, D'Amato focuses on touches and kisses with his actresses, always pushing its intimacy by almost revealing all (in a few scenes, D'Amato breaks his style and does get graphic). The most graphic scene is a scene of violence within Images, the rape of Sister Marta (Marina Hedman) in the forest by two bandits on her way to summon the exorcist (Donald O'Brien). In subsequent viewings of Images, I've skipped through this sequence as it is quite horrifying and offensive. O'Brien's exorcist is an arrogant and egotistical man who arrives, like most cinematic exorcists, to do battle with evil. He doesn't stand a chance. The final act is reserved for D'Amato to film the sisters in their ecstasy, and it concludes quite powerfully, despite its curious elliptical and circular ending. Images is totally uninhibited. D'Amato never settles upon depicting any behavior either strictly induced by demonic possession or natural human desire. It's an odd atmospheric mix and very well-handled by D'Amato. All of the performances are quite good with Senatore, Hedman, and O'Brien standing out. The commercial inspiration for the film was Walerian Borowczyk's Interno di un convento (Behind Convent Walls) (1977) (a hit in Italy), and Images was originally to star Gloria Guida, Anna-Maria Clementi, and Gabriele Tinti (AntiCristo).

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review, Hans. I notice that convents seem to be your fetish, and that is large and in charge.