Director: Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini
Script: Giulio Questi, Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini
Cast: Peter Baldwin, Salvo Randone, Valentina Cortese, Pia Lindstrom, Piero Anchisi, Ennio Balbo, Anna Gherardl, Virna Lisi, Phillipe Leroy
Running time: 85 minutes
One’s enjoyment of The Possessed will depend on your tolerance for black and white ‘art films’ made during a period when many European directors were being ‘arty’ and somewhat pretentious in order to receive the critical plaudits they believed they so richly deserved. I will admit, here and now, that I’ve not much patience for sitting through the kind of ‘up-their-own-posterior-with-their-own-sense-of-self-importance’ films that usually qualify as films of ‘artistic merit’ by snooty film critics, the world over. The Possessed feels, at times, like one such film. However, it does have some positive points.
Whilst there’s not much ‘plot’ there is, at least, a narrative line that runs throughout the film, driving the viewer towards the rather anti-climactic conclusion. Plus the film is nicely shot and very atmospheric. The director certainly likes his eerie wind noises on the soundtrack, for example!
Based on an actual multiple murder case, from the 1930s, The Possessed plays out like an early try-out for the giallo sub-genre of murder mysteries that became very popular in Italy several years after this film was shot.
Our ‘hero’ character, is Bernard (Peter Baldwin), a middle-aged writer who has returned to a sleepy coastal town looking for a maid that he’d become somewhat creepily obsessed with during his last trip to the hotel, where the girl, Tilda, worked. He books into the same room as last time, under the pretence that he’s there to write a book during the out-of-season quieter time, but really he’s just dumped his girlfriend (by phone, no less) in the hope of getting together with the beautiful hotel maid. Unfortunately, for him, he soon learns that Tilda is now dead, having allegedly committed suicide. Bernard is devastated to learn of this, but a local photographer tells him that he thinks she was murdered to cover up a local scandal. Our lovesick hero then starts to investigate further, although this mostly just involves him mooning about the hotel and town, in grey and windy weather, looking pensive, despondent, and rather angst-ridden.
The Possessed is all a bit melodramatic for my liking, and I found some scenes unintentionally funny, scenes that I’m sure the writers meant to be anything but amusing… I found that some of the dialogue was very stilted and unreal, although maybe that was due to the English translation – I watched the English version. There’s a fascinating (not) discussion about thermometers at one point, for example! I’m also not so sure the use of a narrator was a good idea either; plus that conceit is not used in any consistent manner, which begs the question: why bother in the first place?
However, despite my many reservations regarding the film, I did find it to be quite haunting at times, since much of it plays out like a dream – in fact, there are some weird dream-like flashbacks that the main character has, which later turn out to be lucky guesses in his head as to what actually happened to the maid, Tilda. The film did play on my mind for a couple of days afterwards, which, I guess, might be classed as a good thing…
Arrow Video is distributing The Possessed on Blu-ray. As per usual with Arrow Video there are some decent extras on the disc including:
Audio commentary by author Tim Lucas;
Richard Dyer on The Possessed (25 min) – Cultural critic Richard Dyer talks about how he first came across this giallo, discusses its origins and explains how he thinks that “it’s not quite boring enough to be a proper ‘art’ film”!
Lipstick Marks (11.5 mins) – Renowned make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi, who describes himself of having ‘an assassin look’, talks about his work on the film, using pig skin in some shots, and about his career in general.
Youth Memories (16 mins) – An interview with assistant art director Danti Ferretti about his career. He talks briefly about The Possessed and how it was shot in Veneto.
The Legacy of the Bazzuni brothers (30.5 mins) – An interview with actor and director Francesco Barilli, who was a close friend of The Possessed’s directors. He talks about how they first met and how the brothers argued furiously with each other, as they were both very passionate about the film industry.