The Film (3/5)
For certain types of people (myself included) the giallo is a true cinematic addiction. We search all corners of the cinematic globe looking for these violent and sexual Italian murder mysteries of the 60's, 70's, and 80's with rabid intensity our craving only elated when an unseen gem (or a better transfer of a seen one) is found. Whenever I get a giallo I haven't seen, it automatically goes to the top of my viewing pile, because I am the sort of depraved maniac that doesn't just want to see a few select popular gialli, I want to see them ALL. Every black gloved, bloody frame I can get my mitts on. I know this will be quite the challenge, there are people out there with way more time and better resources than me, that have watched more gialli than I can imagine, and still feel they have only scratched the surface. So when Raro's recent DVD release of the Perfume of the Lady in Black appeared in my mailbox it went straight from the envelope to my DVD player.
Perfume of the Lady in Black stars Mimsy Farmer as Silvia Hacherman a scientist, who begins having bizarre hallucinations involving her long dead Mother, who died many years before apparently of suicide. After the first hallucination, she slowly begins to lose her grip on reality. That is honestly as much of a synopsis of this film as I can give without spoiling the film. I will say this, Perfume of the Lady in Black feels much more like a character study than a true giallo. This film is a film about Silvia, and her gradual descent into madness. Yes, there are murders in this film, but most of them occur in the 3rd act. The first hour of the film is mostly Silvia coming to terms with her childhood (sometimes literally, as she frequently converses with her childhood self), and the events surrounding it including the death of her Mother, the abandonment of her Father, and the man her Mom replaced him with.
The film is grounded by a wonderful multi-faceted performance by the always fantastic Mimsy Farmer (Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Autopsy, More). She really brings the character of Silvia to full realization, this is a character whose descent you feel. As her mental state worsens, and the situation around her becomes more and more horrific, she manages to create a character we can feel something for. In a genre film, this is sometimes a difficult achievement. The direction of the film courtesy of Francesco Barilli is excellent, he offers a very bright color palette (most notably his use of yellow), that helps separate it from its very bleak subject matter.
Unfortunately, the film is far from perfect, and has a few notable issues that keep it from being a true giallo masterpiece. The first being that it is simply too long. The film runs well over 2 hours, and could have had a good 10-20 minutes cut from that. Continuing on from that point, the film starts to lose direction after the first hour, there is so much going on, it's as if Barilli wasn't exactly sure what type of film he wanted to make. Lastly, the ending of the film. I will not spoil it for those who have not seen it, but even though it was sort of set up early on in the film. It just feels out of place from what is occurring during the last act, next time I watch it I will consider ending it roughly 2 minutes sooner. To offer a recent comparison it's sort of like The Village, you know that the ending they went with is possible, but it doesn't mean they should have gone with it. Overall, an interesting, but flawed addition to the giallo genre, that may get better with repeat viewings.
This is the first Raro release I have ever seen, and they are apparently a label that knows how to treat a film. Perfume of the Lady in Black is presented in a 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer preserving the films original theatrical aspect ratio. There are no noticeable blemishes on the print, and the colors really pop. The flesh tones are accurate, and black levels are solid. There are 2 audio options Both Dolby 2.0 Stereo tracks one in English and the other in Italian, both are excellent. The dialogue and music are completely audible throughout, and there are no pops, hissing, distortion, or any other audio imperfections. Optional English subtitles are included.
Raro Video have put together a nice little package together for Perfume of the Lady in Black. There isn't much, but what's here is at least informative. The first is a short featurette called Portrait in Black, which is an interview with the director Francesco Barilli. Where he discusses his career, this film, and most importantly attempts to give context to THAT ending. There are also a director bio, and filmography.
Perfume of the Lady in Black is an interesting footnote to the giallo genre. I can't say I recommend it to anyone, but the most hardened of giallo/Italian horror fans, and even then I would suggest proceeding with caution. The first hour is fantastic, but after that the film loses it's way, and sort of becomes a mess. The A/V work courtesy of Raro is fantastic, and the extras while slim at least give some insight into the film. Not Exactly Recommended.