Saturday, July 11, 2015

Evil Sabbath (La vision del sabba) (1988)

Evil Sabbath (La vision del sabba) (1988) is an Italo-French production, directed by Marco Bellocchio and starring Beatrice Dalle in one of her earliest roles.  Dalle plays Maddalena a young woman confined to an asylum who is awaiting a diagnosis of her mental condition to determine whether she is competent to stand trial for murder.  Davide (Daniel Ezralow) is a young doctor who arrives in Italy to examine her; and after their fateful first meeting, Davide’s life makes a radical change.
Evil Sabbath opens with a young woman standing calmly in the foreground while a blazing fire erupts in the background.  In the following scene, an Inquisition torture scene occurs where Dalle is accused of being a witch.  The Inquisitor is about to adjudge her a witch after a series of tests, but a young man assisting the Inquisitor steps in and reveals that Dalle’s character has the plague.  This faux diagnosis saves her life for the time being.  Cut to the present where the young man awakens from sleep—it is Davide:  he was either dreaming the Inquisition scene or his ancestor was present during the period (and Bellocchio is cross-cutting between the two events).  Davide and his wife Cristina (Corinne Touzet) arrive in Italy, and Davide finally meets Maddalena.
Marco Bellocchio crafts an interesting arthouse drama with Evil Sabbath.  It is not a wholly successful film, but the fault does not lie with Bellocchio’s technique:  he is purposefully punctuating his drama with obscurity.  There are more questions at the conclusion of the film than answers.  Evil Sabbath oscillates between scenes of intimacy and more ornate scenes, typically the subjective scenes from Davide’s point of view, involving the historical scenes with witches.  As to the latter, for example, in a night scene in front of a castle Davide encounters a group of wild women, and they surround Davide with a ring of fire.  The seeming intention of the group is to menace and harm Davide, but undaunted, Davide begins to play with the group of women.  They engage in a playful mimicry, and the scene appears as a dance. When these scenes are contrasted with the intimate scenes, of which there are really only three involving Dalle, they pale in comparison.  Davide’s initial interview with Maddalena; Maddalena’s formal questioning by a tribunal; and a love scene in the final act between Davide and Maddalena are the strongest sequences.  Bellocchio shoots each scene primarily focused on one medium shot of Dalle and he allows the camera to linger upon her.  Dalle is amazingly captivating, and the chemistry she has with Ezralow is strong.  (Ezralow’s intimate scenes with Touzet are good too, but they are not nearly as strong as Ezralow with Dalle.)  When Evil Sabbath does not focus on Dalle, the film cannot generate the energy present in the intimate scenes.
Evil Sabbath is an interesting film conceptually.  I just wish it had been done differently.  The exploration of the word “bewitched” in a filmic composition is a subject well worth exploring:  a man as a completely submissive subject towards his powerful female object.  If any actress is bewitching, Dalle is certainly one first to mind.  Preferring a wholly intimate film focusing on Dalle is my stance on this obscurity.  Anyone seeking a tripped-out arthouse drama may seek out Evil Sabbath, but it will only make each seek out more Dalle.

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