H2S (1969)

H2S‘How about pretending to be a mantis giving birth?’

A young student finds himself involved with a rebellion against authority at a strange university. Eventually, he escapes to a mountain wilderness with one of the female students, but their new life together brings its own problems…

Once in a while, trawling through the underbelly of obscure and low-budget cinema brings you to a film that defies analysis. All that can be done is to describe what happens on the screen, and confess yourself completely stumped. This is such a film.

Matters open with a 5-minute educational(?) sequence about the behaviour of rats. When population reaches critical mass, they eat each other. Lovely. Then we meet our hero Tommoso, a small, young man who dresses in shiny shoes with large buckles, green stockings, rolled-up trousers, a blazer, and a bright green shirt. His hair is fluorescent orange. Yes, he looks like a leprechaun. Why? Who knows? He’s enrolled at a rather unusual establishment of higher education (or he may have been kidnapped) where tuition consists of watching little girls killing goldfish, and other informative demonstrations. These are led by US actor Lionel Stander, still several years away from his most famous role as old retainer Max on T\/’s ‘Hart to Hart’ with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers.

Not surprisingly, the students would rather be doing media studies or hanging out at the Uni bar,  so they stage a rebellion that involves wrapping their Principal in toilet rolls. He gets his own back, though, when he invites the student leader to lunch, and then eats her instead. He’s aided in his nefarious schemes by a very tall and strangely dressed woman who bares an unmistakable resemblance to a giant bird. This is probably significant. Why? Who knows?

Tomato escapes all this horror to a snowy mountainside along with fellow malcontent Alice, where they build a shiny log cabin, and decide to speak only in grunts. Things seem to be going well, if rather slowly for the audience, until Alice gets bored and starts wanting things. Most of these involve nasty role-playing games that push Tomato to the point of death. What’s it got to do with the first half of the film? Who knows? But Tomato isn’t very happy about the way the relationship is developing, and decides to go back to school…Probably to finish his education and take his place in normal society. Who knows?

This is the kind of obscure, freewheeling satire that could only have been made in the late 1960s, or under the influence of suspicious substances. Or probably both. Writer-Director Roberto Faenza was an art student (surprise, surprise!) and the rumour is that the film was banned in Italy, and all copies were ordered destroyed. Why? Well, it’s all about conformity and rebellion I guess, and without an in depth knowledge of Italian politics, I can’t really tell you any more. It’s certain that the film was never released outside that country, and that Faenza didn’t make another movie for 10 years, although he has carved out a respectable career in Italian film since.

H2S (1969)

‘Excuse me, can I go to the bathroom?’

Our young leads are played by Denis Gilmore and Carole André. Gilmore was a Brit, and returned to the old country to star in much-loved living dead biker flick ‘Psychomania’ (1973), while André appeared in Visconti’s much less distinguished project ‘Death In Venice’ (1971). Her career took an upswing later on, though, when she showed up for cult 1980s cheesefest Yor, The Hunter from the Future’ (1983).

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about this film (apart from its actual existence in the first place) is that the music score is by Oscar-winning film composer Ennio Morricone! His work here is very good, but even long time fans of the composer will have to admit that there are some…um, slightly eccentric entries in his filmography.

Not exactly entertaining, but strangely fascinating. Although, not necessarily in a good way…

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