Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Girl from Trieste (Pasquale Festa Campanile, 1982)

I have a memory of driving through some English town in the early 80s and passing a movie theatre where The Girl from Trieste was playing (presumably in a dubbed and possibly trimmed version), a snapshot of a totally different era in film distribution, and in the identification and satisfaction of erotic tastes. Even as you watch the picture now (which I did in its original Italian), it seems almost as far away as that memory, always receding into some barely articulated preoccupation – in my case, the sense of distance was heavily aided by some of the worst subtitles I can remember, rendering whole exchanges entirely incoherent (among much else, seemingly using the pronouns “he,” “she” and “it” largely randomly). Ben Gazzara (also rather pushed away by the dubbing, his usual smug amusement suppressed) plays a creator of apparent Wonder Woman-type strips; he’s working at the beach one day when a young woman (Ornella Muti, whose sense of sultry calculation allows her some patina of control even at the most flagrant moments of objectification) is saved from drowning; she latches onto him; they make love; she disappears, reappears, shedding an alluring but fragile trail of truths and lies which Gazzara attempts to follow and clarify. Director Pasquale Festa Campanile doesn’t give it much shape or energy, suggesting a fine line between creating a studied enigma and simply being absent. It’s worthwhile though if only for the abstracted grandeur of its final scenes – back on that opening beach, Muti, her head now shaven and her sense of provocative distance at full throttle, all but transforms into a baleful alien being, leaving Gazzara entirely incapable of engagement even in the face of her apparent fatal return to the water, only of obsessively trying to capture her on his page, less as woman than as pure lines and curves.

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