Premiered at FrightFest in August, F. is a very enjoyable and well-made film clearly modelled on John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 but takes place not in a near-empty police station, but after hours in the empty corridors and classrooms of a contemporary British college. After being attacked in his classroom and finding no support among his colleagues, English teacher Robert Anderson (David Schofield) turns to alcohol and eventual burn-out. One of his pupils is his daughter, with whom he has lost connection, and as he tries to repair this relationship while facing his other demons, he finds himself confronted by a relentless attack on the school by a group of faceless thugs and bloodthirsty killers in the guise of those folk devils du jour, the hoodies.
The cast universally contribute to the film’s success but David Schofield is especially effective and notable for his role as Anderson. While steeped in conventions and plotlines with which we are all too familiar, F. is nevertheless an interesting, clever and very watchable low-budget film, which has both relevance and panache. Definitely director Johannes Roberts’s best work to date.
F. is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on January 10 by Optimum Releasing.
Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi and Gabriele Lavia
126 mins (director’s cut)
‘It should be more trashy,’ says the protagonist at the beginning of Dario Argento’s seminal giallo, nailing the film’s gaudy colours firmly to the mast. A post Blow Up David Hemmings plays Marc Daly, the innocent, metro-sexual jazz pianist who witnesses a murder and so finds himself in a cat and mouse game with the deadly assassin. His attempts to unravel the mystery, aided by reporter Gianna Brezzi (an excellent Nicolodi), are hampered as each potential witness is hunted and slain and he himself becomes a target for the psycho-killer. The staple elements of the giallo genre are here: the lurid and elaborate murders; the killer’s black leather gloves; the POV camera that stalks the victims; and the cod psychology -’the killer could appear quite normal’ - further complicated by a dash of the paranormal (the first victim is a psychic who sees into the mind of the killer). The film’s trashiness, however, is willed. Marc will argue with Carlo, a friend and comrade in jazz, who accuses him of playing ‘bourgeois’ jazz, of basically slumming it in contrast to Carlo’s bitter, self-destructive and ‘proletarian’ jazz. The elaborateness of the killings are a case in point, as each one is meticulously set up, scored (both by the killer with a creepy children’s song and by the prog-rock group Goblin) and delivered while, at the same time, retaining a primal savagery and bloodiness. To emphasise the film’s stylistic schizophrenia, one character is killed by a combination of a dustbin lorry and a sports car.
This duality is also evident in the film’s portrait of a deeply confused Italy: a country torn between its heritage past, its statuary and haunted villas, and a hankering after a tacky modernism, of which Marc himself, with his imported jazz, his sterile apartment and his local Edward Hopper-inspired bar, is a representative. It is a country where oafish policemen discuss strike action, munch on sandwiches at the crime scene, ogle prostitutes at the police station and appear blandly uninterested in the crimes taking place. In Argento’s Italy, the children are menacing, casually torturing animals, and the psychiatrist, Prof. Giordani, is as crazy as the case he seeks to analyse.
This double disc DVD release offers a belated opportunity to see the original full-length film. This is not so much a director’s cut as a restoration of the 1975 Italian theatrical release. There is a bit more gore: the eponymous red has that wonderful sloshing paint quality that can only be found in 70s cinema. We also get more comedy as Argento tries for a Thin Man dynamic between Hemmings and Nicolodi. Any conventional sense of romance is eschewed, however, as Hemmings’s neurotic vulnerability renders him incapable of taking on the masterful Nicolodi, who, as a strong and independently-minded career girl, also serves Argento as a foil to possible charges of misogyny.
Cast: Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène-Guibeaud, Marie Bos
In giallo (the Italian erotic thriller genre so loved of the 70s), there are two levels of reality: the everyday reality of bumbling detectives or over-curious, gorgeous girls, and a subjective reality, where we might learn about a bitter memory that haunts a serial killer, or a character’s experience of ecstasy, be that of terror or pleasure. In these moments, the director can let loose and use sound and image to crack open linear logic so that rooms can be flooded by unexplained, lurid coloured light and darkened club scenes can be conjured up through just a glint of gold lamé, a sequined nipple and a Morricone beat that nudges us closer and closer towards our libidinal impulses. The co-directing team of Amer, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, seem to have decided, purely for indulgence, to stay with these introspective realities and extend them for the duration of the feature. Sounds great, what’s not to like about a psychedelic spread of giallo tropes and motifs? But you can have too much of a good thing. I would say that giallo relies on contrast. I gladly sit through scenes of wooden acting and shaky, unconvincing mysteries for the treat that is an Argento death: stunningly choreographed and gloriously gratuitous. In Amer there is none of this contrast, and at times it feels like an exercise purely in style.
Amer is a loose, three-part narrative about Ana (played, respectively, by actresses Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène-Guibeaud and Marie Bos), who was physically and emotionally abused as a child. The film concludes when she returns to the site of her primary trauma, her childhood home, to exact her revenge. With very little dialogue, time is contracted and expanded. The world through Ana’s eyes is conveyed to us in excessive detail that creates an inescapable claustrophobia. Clearly, the filmmakers are very comfortable with the short film format and make the leap into the feature form by using a triptych structure. Essentially though, this is three shorts, whose themes and methods, while seductive, are repetitive - a feature for the sake of it. At times the joy in surface, as Ana fingers a patterned wallpaper, for example, or becomes obsessed with the feel of her bathwater, seems just that - surface. Generally, Amer‘s film language is akin to a glossy car advert in the style of giallo. At other times, the filmic experimentation is uncompromising, any meaning dissolves and only enigmatic imprints are left. As I see it, the directors need to release themselves from the possessive hold of their giallo parent, and like adolescent rebels, really roll with the unique product of their poetic, independent reconfiguring.
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