Monday, January 10, 2011

La bimba di Satana (1982)

La bimba di Satana (1982) is a Gabriele Crisanti production, written by Piero Regnoli, and stars Mariangela Giordiano. This trio, previous to this production, were frequent collaborators and are now known to present memory among cult film fans of having created true curiosities in Italian genre cinema. Amongst their collaborations are Malabimba (1979); Patrick vive ancora (1980); and Le notti del terrore (1981), for example; and likewise, this trio has produced many an opportunity for cult film fans to take a humorous stab at their cinema, myself included. Today, however, I will not be taking such an approach with La bimba di Satana."I've always been hired by producers who had just had a big flop," says director Mario Bianchi, "because I was good at stopping the bleeding." Bianchi begins his approximately twenty-minute interview, included as an extra on Severin's DVD release of La bimba, with humility. Bianchi's interview is either wonderfully or frustratingly cryptic as many questions regarding this production go unanswered. Bianchi tells an anecdote of working with the maestro, Lucio Fulci, in which Fulci asks Bianchi to film some incidental shots for his film, Sodoma's Ghost (1988). Bianchi concludes his anecdote by admitting that he ended up shooting a third of the film. This is a serious admission against interest, but it seems as if Bianchi is just attempting to describe his career in horror cinema. A very limited one, at that. If one were forced to categorize La bimba, then perhaps intuitively the most fitting description would be as a horror film. Bianchi continues: “When Crisanti, the producer, called me I was enthusiastic. I never had done anything like it. But, as I said, the problem was that we were working on a very low budget. In Rome we call them ‘pizza e fichi.’ We had very little time to do the shooting. You judge the results for yourself.” Bianchi concludes with this telling statement, “The budget was so small that it was impossible for Crisanti to lose money on the film.”

Perhaps with his limited background in horror cinema combined with the creative freedom allowed by the low budget, Bianchi’s La bimba di Satana is a film which appeals really to no one group. Seasoned horror buffs can scoff at the lack of scares; those seeking to satisfy their prurient interests are better suited going elsewhere (even with the extended XXX version); and the art house intellectuals won’t find much material to deconstruct. To me this aspect is damned impressive. So what is this film about?

Maria (Marina Hedman) has died, leaving as survivors her husband, Antonio (Aldo Sambrell), her daughter, Miria (Jacqueline Dupré), and her disabled brother-in law, who is cared for by a novitiate to the convent, Sol (Mariangela Giordiano). Miria is understandably upset by the death of her mother whose corpse is placed in the crypt of the family’s castle. While her body awaits embalmment, will her soul remain at rest? Two guesses, one of them is right.

Bianchi relates, again cryptically: “The only thing I didn’t like is the technique of the shooting. Anyway, I think it’s the same feeling for a novelist. Right after he writes the words ‘The End’ he wants to rewrite his book again from the beginning.” I disagree with Bianchi as he has some beautiful compositions, for example:
The family castle is a genuine location, and Bianchi frequently uses wide compositions, save the intimate, dramatic confrontations between characters. Interestingly, not only do these wide compositions contribute to the unreal atmosphere of the film, they also make this very small family seem even smaller. In other words, it makes this dysfunctional family seem all the more so. “I want to say ‘congratulations!’ to myself because of Mariangela Giordiano’s strip-tease scene. At the time it wasn’t easy to shoot a sequence like that without seeming vulgar.” [Please bear in mind despite the presence of exclamation punctuation in the preceding quote, Bianchi is delivering this statement in the same manner in which he gives his entire interview, kind of shy.] I think this scene is quite lovely, and Bianchi’s self-congratulation is merited, as it is not vulgar. This visual sequence is one of the richer scenes. Sol is undressing to go to bed, but her overtly theatrical mode of undressing really appears as a subtle striptease for the viewer. This aspect is heightened by the presence of her ward, Antonio’s disabled brother, peering at her through the doorway. He begins to fantasize about Sol pleasuring herself in front of him; and with a bizarre dissolve and harsh crosscut, Bianchi switches to his p.o.v. Bianchi also comments upon the presence of Giordiano’s white stockings and how they enhance the erotic aspect of the scene. He is one-hundred-percent correct, and I love how this one small scene becomes representative of all male fantasies with nuns: behind their habits and reserved demeanors resides human sexuality, all the more enticing, because it is, in some regards, forbidden. One of the other scenes which Bianchi likes is one of the few with Giordiano and Hedman embracing. As a visual composition, these actresses are quite stunning: Hedman with her voluptuous and soft body with light blonde hair and fair skin juxtaposed with svelte Giordiano and her darker complexion and hair. These two characters ambiguously hide a secret, and one arresting composition might reveal everything: from the floor the camera tilts upward capturing Giordiano standing straight with her hands at her side while Hedman, almost kneeling, caresses Giordiano with her hands and her lips. Hedman’s submissive position and Giordiano’s stoic position give the composition a perversely religious aspect but also an equally powerful erotic one. In AntiCristo: The Bible of Nasty Nun Sinema & Culture, its author writes: “The original Italian version was shot with hardcore sex scenes, which are not in the general domestic release version and shorter (69m) Spanish print. Vivi’s Italian video version is strictly softcore.” (p. 61, FAB Press, Surrey, U.K.: 2000, author Steve Fentone.) Strictly for purposes of review, I have seen this explicit version via the German, region 2, X-Rated Kult DVD. Ms. Hedman performs the majority of the sex within, and like the softcore version, the hardcore version is overall very odd and disorienting. In one sequence, its set-up very obvious even in the softcore version, Hedman performs in close-up. Nico Catanese’s score for both versions, a creepy, chanting tune, plays over Hedman’s performance. Almost humorously, Catense’s score plays to no rhythm: it just loops over and over. Hedman’s Maria controls the tempo, despite the scene climaxing with a literal climax. Regnoli delivers another dysfunction-filled script to create the dramatic conflict. He penned a really rich role for Giordiano, and her character gets to sample the dramatic range from maternal caregiver to sexual temptress to defiant captive to submissive lover. Giordiano and Aldo Sambrell are consummate professionals and give very good performances. Bianchi’s legacy in cinema is an intriguing one, and kudos to Severin for releasing this film. All quotes and facts from Bianchi are taken from his interview included as a supplement on the Severin DVD of La bimba di Satana. Those seeking a trippy, surreal and sick little flick are advised to seek it out.

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