Like Alice, the young translator whose strange journey we follow in Footprints (Le orme), you may find yourself hit by waves of tingling déjà vu, recurrent nightmare and flickering, almost remembered memory when watching this long-lost Italian thriller. Have I seen that peacock stained-glass window before? I’m sure I’ve stood on that mysterious hill overlooking that same sea?
If it wasn’t for the fact that this psychedelically haunting giallo from 1975 has never before been released in the UK, and has been unavailable worldwide on DVD until now, it would be easy to cite its influence on later moonlit dips into the interior, like some of the more cerebral moments of Argento, Aronofsky’s The Fountain, US experimental filmmaker Nina Menke’s work and of course many of Lynch’s delights.
Through an impressive performance by Florinda Bolkan (who also starred in ‘nunsploitation’ flick Flavia the Heretic), we are drawn into Alice’s world and her degenerating psychological state. A yellow dress has appeared overnight in her wardrobe, lurid against her row of beige suits. There’s also a ripped up postcard with an image of an opulent hotel on her kitchen floor. Alice’s colleagues have just informed her she’s been missing from work for three days, and the dream of an astronaut abandoned on the moon continues playing out in her mind’s eye. Alice’s seemingly straightforward existence has been torn apart and she must travel to the exotic island of Garma to piece things back together. We are drawn all the more powerfully into her world as she seems credible and intelligent, not prone to hysterical flights of fancy like the flailing token females that plague many gialli. And to this is added the impressive, disturbing cameo by Klaus Kinski as the sinister scientist Dr Blackmann.
Director Luigi Bazzoni’s treatment of Footprints is visionary, being equal parts style and substance, enhanced much by the cinematography of Vittorio Storraro, who of course also contributed his extraordinary talent to the films of Bertolucci and Coppola. It’s certainly a visual treat and while it is true to its era, it retains an elegance even in the final surrealist sequence on the stunning Balkan beach. The dream/memory flashbacks are executed with restraint and subtlety, and as a result have a particularly memorable impact on the subconscious mind. Perhaps a little like Storraro himself, this is a film with a sassy sense of its own style: it’s not just dressed to impress.
Footprints comes with the added appeal of obscurity: you’ll probably be the only one you know who’s seen it. The price to pay for this obscurity is the crude restoration of previously lost scenes, and the sudden (unintentionally) hilarious switches from English to Italian. These can be forgiven but do detract slightly from the overall credibility of the film. All in all, however, for those longing for an existentialist, sci-fi adventure that combines the narrative mystery and sense of isolation of Solaris with the vivid Italian visions of Argento: this is the film you’ve been dreaming of.