Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Eyes Behind the Wall (L’occhio dietro la parete) (1977)

Eyes Behind the Wall (L’occhio dietro la parete) (1977) is a weird Italian film. A giallo?  No.  However, the opening scene certainly suggests so.  A young man (John Phillip Law) shares a train car with an attractive young woman.  His eyes are drawn to her exposed legs, and he becomes aroused while watching her cross and uncross her legs.  His arousal prompts him to strangle the woman (and presumably, because it is not shown) and rape her.  Cut to attractive Olga (Olga Bisera) in a wealthy manor.  She joins Ivano (Fernando Rey) for dinner.  Discussion ensues about their new tenant, as they house a rental cottage on their property.  Ivano has been spying on his new tenant, named Arturo (Law), and is fascinated by his behavior.  Arturo spends all of his days alone listening to only classical and modern, progressive music.  He reads heady tomes, such as major philosophical and science works.  Ivano knows little about him after observation.  Where does he go when he leaves?  How does he produce income?  Olga sees Ivano’s spying as an intrusion upon someone’s private space but she is indulgent of his behavior:  Ivano is a writer, disabled and unable to walk.  He feels unable to move about in polite society to gather experiences to inform his writing.  So Ivano is reduced to spying.  Ivano is so into spying that he has installed a state-of-the-art monitoring device which allows him to view Arturo in his flat with complete discretion.  After dinner, Olga and Ivano go to spy upon Arturo in his apartment.  When Arturo sheds his clothes and engages in his exercises, Ivano prompts Olga to watch.  The old man strokes young Olga while she watches.  After their viewing session, Ivano suggests that Olga follow Arturo when he leaves at night and learn what he does.  Olga reluctantly agrees…
Eyes strives to elevate itself beyond mere sensationalism and cast a drama within the milieu a generation questioning its sexual mores and taboos.  (Although, in the end, I think director and writer Giuliano Petrelli was struggling to balance the sensationalism and his ideals.)  Law’s character, Arturo, is presented as a curious but seriously confused individual (hence, the opening scene).  He seeks solace and knowledge in books, but when confronted with the real world and his emotions, he shuts down.  For example, on the trolley Arturo gets cruised by a dude who invites him to a nightclub for dancing.  Arturo doesn’t participate in the dancing—when an attractive young woman sheds her clothes on the dance floor, it is a little too much for him.  The guy invites himself to Arturo’s flat, and Arturo doesn’t understand his flirty behavior.  (I have to admit that I laughed quite a bit when Arturo was getting buggered and screaming bloody murder).  Eventually, Ivano prods Olga to arrange a meeting with Arturo and get to know him.  She brings Arturo the lease to sign and invites him out for the day.  Arturo is able talk politics and philosophy, but he is as socially-awkward as Travis Bickle when it comes to articulating his feelings.  Olga seduces him that evening in his flat (much to the chagrin of Ivano taking in all of the details via his spy-scope):  Arturo tries to initiate sex by anal penetration, but Olga, like a consoling mother, tells him no and takes over the reins in the lovemaking.  Olga and Arturo also have unique sexual identities vis-à-vis each other, and even their butler, Ottavio (José Quaglio) has his own secret sexual hang-ups and quirks which director Petrelli thinks is worth exploring with some sensitivity.
The premise of Eyes is too incredulous to be taken seriously while simultaneously, the film is too realistic to be arty.  At its end, Eyes is too heady—more anthropology than cinema.  The end result is an average film.  However, beyond its artistic approach to the subject matter, Eyes is entertaining.  There is enough mystery to each character to make viewing compelling.  Fernando Rey is an amazing actor and is able to be quite captivating as Ivano, despite his character really never leaving his study or the dining room.  Beautiful Olga Bisera plays the perfect accompaniment as the curious female to John Phillip Law’s shy Arturo.  The sensational elements of Eyes never take over, but they become focal when on display.  In the end, erotic filmmakers, like Tinto Brass with La chiave (1983), for example, make more compelling films, both artistically and intellectually, when dealing with this subject matter.

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