If it didn’t date from 1973, this fumetti-based curio could be neatly filed under ’60s films that swing too hard’. Isabelle de Funes plays, or rather, looks good as Valentina (huge eyes, great Louise Brooks hair), a liberated photographer who comes under the malign influence of witchy Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker, with a fine piled mussy blonde do). Baba Yaga wants Valentina in a blatantly Sapphic way, but her seduction technique seems to involve cursing her camera, and killing one of her models with a creepy fetish doll that periodically transforms into a scantily clad dominatrix. This, unsurprisingly, doesn’t seem to push Valentina’s buttons, but does make her prone to some fantasies involving Nazis, boxing rings and firing squads, which periodically invade the narrative until it all gets a bit baffling in typical Italian Euro-sleaze style.
Frankly, Baba Yaga isn’t all that concerned with plot or internal logic, but serves more as a tick list of groovy stuff. It begins with an anti-American happening in a Milanese graveyard and continues to throw comics, radical politics, light bondage, fruggable music and half-naked models in cute cowboy/Indian costumes at the viewer throughout. This is fine by me, and most of the film’s minor pleasures come from odd period detail, like a startling racist detergent advert directed by Valentina’s half-arsed radical lover Arno (George Eastman, horrible hair and beard, like a Swedish porn star). But Baba Yaga suffers from an uncertainty of tone; it trundles on by in a swirl of funky, busily edited scenes, leaving the audience unsure as to how moving, amusing, creepy or meaningful all this is supposed to be.
Valentina was the late Guido Crepax’s regular heroine in 30 years of comic strips, and much of the reason to watch the film lies with curiosity over how well Crepax’s world transfers to celluloid. To be fair, director Corrado Farina, not a prolific filmmaker, has a decent stab at bringing Crepax’s scratchy eroticism to the screen, especially in the heavily stylised sex scenes, which use montages of black and white photographs to approximate the comic’s layered close-up panels. There is also an effective emphasis on the sensual, on the look, the texture, the touching of things, with Baba Yaga’s house full of strange Victorian clutter contrasted with Valentina’s chic minimal décor (I want that transparent phone). But this is half the film’s problem; it’s too preoccupied with surface detail and too little concerned with ideas. And anyone expecting this Baba Yaga to play with the rich details of the Slavic legends will be sorely disappointed. For what its worth, this is a lovingly packaged disc from Shameless, with a newly restored version, two cool short docs on fumetti and a commentary by Farina. Knock yourself out, if that’s your bag, man…