Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Washing Machine (1993)

"The film was developed from a theatrical piece and was shot in Budapest. I wasn't very happy with The Washing Machine," says its director, Ruggero Deodato, "because I was never convinced that the casting was correct, and the film was made too quickly." (from Cannibal Holocaust and the Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato by Harvey Fenton, Julian Grainger, and Gian Luca Castoldi, FAB Press, Surrey, U.K., 1999, p.29.) Deodato continues, "I can only say that I am not at all pleased with the final result because it's a very intimate movie and should have had well-known actors, which it does not. So, after the first few minutes it collapses.
"I am very sorry to have to say this because the setting is extraordinarily good and finding the body inside the washing machine at the beginning of the movie is an unusual and interesting start; but for the moment I prefer to put it to one side and regard it as an experiment. When I look at it again later more carefully, I might like it better." (from Spaghetti Nightmares by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta, Phantasma Books, Florida, 1996, p. 44)While Deodato's first statements regarding his Vortice Mortale (The Washing Machine) (1993) seem straightforward and clear, his second statement, "it's a very intimate movie and should have had well-known actors," is cryptic. By "intimate," one can assume that Deodato means that The Washing Machine is a film with few actors who are burdened with carrying the film's plot. This is true: The Washing Machine really has only four principal actors: Philippe Caroit, who plays Inspector Alexander Stacev; and his character becomes entangled with three sisters, Maria (Ilaria Borrelli), Vida (Kahia Figura) and Ludmilla (Barbara Ricci) in a murder case. By qualifying "actors" with "well-known," perhaps Deodato is also insinuating that better actors were needed to carry the film.
Intuitively, since Deodato says "after the first few minutes it collapses," what he is really saying (and his first statements corroborate this) is that The Washing Machine needed the Hollywood A-level treatment for B-movie fare, as the film is firmly rooted in the erotic thriller genre. Like Basic Instinct released the year before, The Washing Machine boasts an extremely talented director with a flare for the wicked and the perverse and a fairly convoluted and interesting script (here by Luigi Spagnol). However, The Washing Machine lacks the star power and budget of Verhoeven's blockbuster, so it remains in the B-movie arena, much like the films which inspired Basic Instinct, starring the likes of Tanya Roberts, Shannon Tweed, and Andrew Stevens, for example. The Washing Machine received no theatrical release in Italy. (from Cannibal Holocaust and the Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato by Harvey Fenton, Julian Grainger, and Gian Luca Castoldi, FAB Press, Surrey, U.K., 1999, p.104.)Just speculation on my part. The Washing Machine is carried by the eroticism of its three actresses, and the kinky fun that their director has with their characters. In the film’s best visual sequence, Alexander has gone to a museum to see Maria. Maria, in addition to her giving music lessons, spends her free time with the blind. On this particular day, the museum is closed to the public, so Maria and the group of blind patrons are allowed to touch and feel the sculptures while Maria gives commentary. Enter Alexander, who by this time in the story is well-seduced by the three sisters, especially Maria. She walks over to Alexander, feigning blindness. She disrobes and allows Alexander to feel her, much like the blind patrons are doing to the sculptures. The fear of getting caught heightens their excitement, as one of Maria’s wards comes dangerously close to discovering the two. Deodato reserves his relish for his actresses--a tight close-up of a handcuff hitting a railing or a high heeled shoe propping up or a skirt sliding up or a dress falling down. Claudio Simonetti’s score (one of his better later pieces) feels oddly out of place accompanying sex instead of violence; yet this is where the excitement is within The Washing Machine. Luigi Spagnol’s script is familiar. Alexander is the cop who in the course of an investigation becomes seduced with his suspect(s). During the course of the investigation, twist and turns ensue, and his obsession towards his suspects leads him astray (as the director attempts to lead his viewer astray from obvious clues in the mystery). A lot of the relevant sequences to the mystery are through hearsay: Alexander questions one of the sisters, and she tells her version. Deodato renders each story visually, so each sister’s credibility is always an issue. Personally, I could care less how the story ended, as most plots usually end with the most ludicrous result imaginable. How The Washing Machine actually ends remains hidden for the curious viewer. The Washing Machine loosely portrays the three sisters like traditional witches; so when Alexander, against better judgment, continues deeper into his obsession, the metaphor, he is under their “spell” is oddly appropriate. Other visual motifs like Maria’s black cat and the titular washing machine substituting for a cauldron are also present. It’s a very creative touch and strongly felt throughout the whole film. Deodato is a brilliant visual stylist with a unique eye; and he really captures the beauty and atmosphere of the Budapest setting. It’s a lot more fun watching the three sisters have their way with Alexander than watching him stumble through an investigation. Obscure.

2 comments:

Alex B. said...

Visually this was very impressive, and I'd say it's worth a look more than once. Considering that the film came out at a time when Italian films were dying out, it's a decent achievement. But there's something missing.

Emily said...

So you're telling me this isn't a film about a killer laundry appliance and therefore one I'll have little interest in seeing?