The Film (5/5)
Mimsy Farmer plays Silvia Hacherman, a scientist with a serious case of both mommy and daddy issues. Between her prick boyfriend (Maurizio Bonuglia), creepy neighbor (Mario Scaccia), the rapey ex-lover of her mother (Orazio Orlando), and a gaggle of satanic cult creepos, Silvia is right at the edge of utter madness. Throw the ghosts of her dead mom (Renata Zamengo) and her childhood self (a young Lara Wendel) into the mix and yep, you guessed it, we’re off to crazy town!
In case you haven’t seen this film before, I’m making light of the extremely dark and disturbing story because if I don’t I’ll go mad myself. This bizarre giallo of the psychosexual variety is one of my favorite films of the genre. The quiet menace and gaudy visual style of the film gets upended when everything goes bonkers. The ending feels completely out of left field the first time around and unlike most reviewers, I think that it’s part of the film’s strength. For me, Perfume of the Lady in Black holds up to multiple viewings and everything falls into place for the open-minded viewer.
Farmer is so damn good at playing damaged characters and she does not disappoint here. In fact, the whole cast is in top form here. Jho Jhenkins plays Andy, a professor and expert on voodoo, who is a very imposing character here. While he obviously has some diabolical designs on Silvia, there’s also a heaping helping of sexual tension between the two. As to what mixed message about race Barilli is trying to say, I have no idea but it makes for some interesting viewing nonetheless.
Nicola Piovani’s score is equally beautiful and discordant and is an important part of what makes this film so unique. The main melody with that mournful violin and accompanying accordian will slice into your mind like a meat cleaver and stay there pretty much forever. Cinematographer Mario Masini captures the dynamic set design and gorgeous lighting so perfectly that the whole film is just a feast for the eyes.
Director Francesco Barilli nimbly jumps between the sleaze, art, mystery, and horror elements so much that it never dwells on any one of them for too long. What would happen when a troubled young woman whose psyche is already in danger of coming apart walks into the crosshairs of an evil congregation of flesh hungry baddies? Watch and find out! This would make an excellent double feature with Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil.
I hate to say it but this Blu-ray looks like crap. Raro Video’s DVD of this same title actually fares better than this disc in terms of picture quality. There’s so much digital noise here that it’s pretty distracting. The nighttime scenes look good though they are few and far between, there’s some improved detail over previous DVD versions, and the colors are bright but this is very disappointing overall. Audio is decent and clear though I wish the mix in both the English and Italian (with English subtitles) was louder.
There’s an excellent interview with director Barilli. He talks about how he got into film and the genesis of this odd little film. He’s understandably bitter about the state of cinema today. The disc features his fairly recent and quirky short film “The Knight Errant” which has some funny moments. There’s a trailer for Perfume and a short booklet with some liner notes about the film. While I’m disappointed in the picture quality, this disc is a keeper thanks to its extras.
I can’t praise this trashy portrait of a damned woman going insane enough. It’s a smart film with a director throwing a lot of ideas at the wall to see what sticks. Some of these ideas are like glue (Alice in Wonderland anyone?) and some of them seem to go flying off into the stratosphere (why is Silvia scared of black people?) but it’s all very fascinating, heartbreaking, and utterly strange.