While ostensibly referred to as a giallo in most circles, Luigi Bazzoni’s and Franco Rossellini’s stunning film THE POSSESSED (1965) is actually closer in spirit to a moody film-noir, and although it does feature a number of key elements specific to gialli, it feels wholly unique and is difficult to categorize. Highlighted by some truly outstanding photography, this shadowy, eerily menacing film has finally received its definitive release thanks to Arrow Video, which is further highlighted by a number of illuminating extra features.
Novelist Bernard (Peter Baldwin) breaks-up with his girlfriend Claudia over the phone, and even though he feels that he should—and wants to—love her, he still calls it quits just the same. Upon feeling compelled to visit a small lakeside town he used to vacation at as a child, he is this time lured by the prospect of meeting Tilde (Virna Lisi), a hotel maid who fleetingly caught his eye and with whom he has since become infatuated. However, upon his arrival, he learns from the hotel’s owner, Enrico (Salvo Randone) that she has since committed suicide, which prompts him to conduct his own investigation with the help of Francesco (Pier Giovanni Anchisi), a local photographer and journalist who believes Tilde was actually murdered. Confused and frustrated, Bernard is also haunted by fragmented memories, daydreams and an increasing paranoia as he gradually comes to suspect that Enrico, or possibly his edgy, brooding son Mario (Philippe Leroy), might be the culprit(s) behind Tilde’s death, which is further emphasized by Enrico’s daughter Irma (Valentina Cortese), whose jittery behaviour only confirms his suspicions. And just why is it that Adriana (Pia Lindström), Mario’s despondent newlywed bride, takes late-night walks alongside the ghostly, moonlit lake…?
This is a film filled with loneliness—despite all their daily social interactions, every character is consumed by it, either searching for something or someone. Bernard, a talented novelist, seems to have it all: a thriving career, a loving girlfriend, but there is nevertheless a void in his life (“I don’t feel anything, not for you, not for me, not for anyone,” he tells Claudia.). Hence, he hopes that Tilde may be the answer to his unhappiness. Enrico, the hotel’s middle-aged owner wanders the hotel entertaining his few guests as best he can (“If I were younger, I would have remarried myself. Women are a closed chapter…”), while Mario and Adriana are completely indifferent towards one another, despite having only just returned from their honeymoon. Adding to the overall bleak and lonely air, the unnamed Italian lakeside resort whereon the bulk of the action unfolds is also mostly boarded-up for the winter, with only a few remaining locals populating the town, which only seems to accentuate everyone’s unease. At one point, Irma confesses that there is “something very powerful hanging over me and my family” and how “we have no more guests,” revealing that she too is precariously on the brink. On the other hand, Tilde—who is only shown via photographs and some very brief flashback recollections (or are they fantasies?)—represents the sole glimmer of life and happiness in this emotionally barren landscape.
Released in Italy as LA DONNA DEL LAGO (trans: “The Lady of the Lake”), THE POSSESSED was adapted from a novel by Giovanni Comisso (also titled La Donna del Lago), which itself was inspired by a series of murders during the ’30s in Alleghe, a small town in northeastern Italy. THE POSSESSED was Luigi Bazzoni’s first full-length feature as a director and remains a remarkable accomplishment, which is simultaneously hallucinatory and meticulous in its approach to detail, its ambiance further highlighted by a number of significant, eye-catching images (including some almost otherworldly high-contrast photography) that captures the bleakness of the climate perfectly. Aided by stellar performances from American actor Baldwin and Italian character actor Randone, the film never wavers nor wastes any time, even when the narrative is toying with the audience as it moves between reality and Bernard’s subconscious. It is a thoroughly convincing and dramatically mesmerizing film!
Previously available on untranslated VHS videocassette through the Canadian-based Italian-language label Master Video, the film eventually appeared on DVD in both Italy and Spain via Sinister Film and Filmax, respectively, but neither of those editions were English-friendly either. Sinister Film eventually released it onto Blu-ray, but once again it lacked any English audio or subtitles. In 2016, German label Koch Media released an elaborate 5-disc Blu-ray / DVD set of Luigi Bazzoni’s equally impressive, offbeat giallo FOOTPRINTS ON THE MOON (1975), which also included a Blu-ray of LA DONNA DEL LAGO, but it only included Italian audio with optional German subtitles. Thankfully, Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray, which features a (quote) “brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative” looks absolutely stunning in every respect. Audio is provided in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono in both Italian (including newly-translated English subtitles) and English (a long-unheard audio track), which doesn’t have the same resonance as the Italian one, but it’s a fabulous—and very welcome—inclusion just the same. SDH subtitles are also included for the English track.
Aside from the immaculate transfer, Arrow have also included a number of worthwhile extras, beginning with a feature-length audio commentary from Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas. He goes on to discuss the film in great detail in terms of its unique structure (and also its initial screenwriter Giulio Questi, future director of DEATH LAID AN EGG ) and, in an apt comparison, he discusses many of the film’s similarities with Pupi Avati’s THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976), another film about a small Italian town harbouring (quote) “terrifying secrets”. During his critique, Lucas also discusses just how (quote) “well-cast” the film is; much of the talented personnel behind-the-scenes and many of the details surrounding the real-life crimes in Alleghe, as well as how it was future director Pasquale Festa Campanile (at the time working for a newspaper), who encouraged journalist Sergio Saviane to investigate—and eventually expose the murderers—of this once long-forgotten case. This all makes for another thoroughly engaging and informative listen!
In the first on-camera interview, Richard Dyer on The Possessed (25m12s), film critic Dyer focuses primarily on many of the film’s ‘arthouse’ traits, including some of its aesthetic similarities to Ingmar Bergman’s WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957). Next up we get Lipstick Marks (11m52s), an interview with makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi wherein he talks about his early career (although Bazzoni’s film is barely mentioned!) and many of his approaches to makeup effects in general, as well as relating a funny anecdote about Anne Parillaud on the set of Randall Wallace’s THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998). Also, in Youth Memories (16m20s), legendary production designer Dante Ferretti discusses his start working alongside his mentor Luigi Scaccianoce (the credited art director on THE POSSESSED) on a couple of Domenico Paolella swashbucklers, and how he went on to become of one Pier Paolo Pasolini’s regular crew members. In the final—and most substantial—featurette, The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers (30m36s), director Francesco Barilli talks about his relationship with both Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni and how they (and a young Vittorio Storaro) worked on Bernardo Bertolucci’s BEFORE THE REVOLUTION (1964), which is how everything began for them. He speaks most fondly indeed about these early days of his career, and can’t help but heap praise on both of them (e.g., “Storaro learnt everything from Camillo.”). Of Luigi’s debut feature THE POSSESSED, Barilli remarks, “The black-and-white is amazing and the atmosphere is malevolent.” The doc also features a number of clips from much of the filmmakers’ work, and is easily the best featurette of the bunch.
Lastly, the Italian and English trailers for the film are also included, and in the disc’s first pressing, a hefty 38-page booklet includes essays from Andreas Ehrenreich and Roberto Curti, who give incredibly detailed accounts of the film’s production, the Alleghe murders and Bazzoni’s career in general, which serves as a wonderful bonus to what is already an outstanding package. As usual, Arrow Video includes a reversible sleeve highlighting the film’s original Italian art and Sean Philips’ outstanding new artwork, which only further strengthens the distinct film-noir connection. This must-have disc is available from DiabolikDVD or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.