‘What do you want me to do? Show you my Chinese stamps or my butterfly collection?’
Fleeing from an abusive boyfriend, a beautiful young woman joins on an old friend on a remote island. She is also on her own after ditching her social-climbing husband. The two enjoy an idyllic life until the boyfriend arrives, determined to win back his former lover…
Obscure Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Silvio Amadio that boasts little to recommend it beyond a beautiful location. A paper-thin plot, unsympathetic characters and some dubious gender politics don’t help, but it’s mostly the snail’s pace and absence of drama that results in a dull and lifeless experience.
Manuela (Ewa Green) has had enough of the controlling behaviour of boyfriend, Maurizio (Nino Segurini) and walks out. Fearing reprisals, she also leaves town, joining old friend Eleonora (Catherine Diamant) on her small, private island. The two bond over shipping trips to the mainland and days on the beach. They have plenty in common too, with Diamant having also suffered at the hands of men, specifically the husband who only married her for her money. Their mutual appreciation starts to unravel, however, when Segurini arrives and attempts to patch things up with Green. By this time, the girls are more than friends and passions erupt into violence.
There isn’t a lot more to Amadio’s story than that, and there is an awful lot of padding in the first half. Many of these early scenes are devoted to the friendship of the two beautiful young women, and it is refreshing to see that kind of supportive relationship on the screen. However, it’s a long time before anything else happens. And, of course, being an Italian genre film of the 1960s, you can probably guess what that next development is: Diamant begins to have a different kind of feeling for Green, which the younger girl eventually reciprocates.
But this does bring up some issues. Diamant seems initially confused and even repelled, by her new feelings, even hooking up with local stud Franco (Wolfgang Hillinger) to try to reassert her heterosexuality. Of course, she may be having a late sexual awakening, but this stretches credibility when we are supposed to believe precisely the same about Green. It might be stretching a point a little, but it is possible to draw a ‘Garden of Eden’ parallel here, with Segurini as the serpent in paradise, tempting Green with forbidden fruit. However, given that this is a borderline exploitation flick made by Italian men in the late 1960s, that’s probably giving the filmmakers way too much credit.
The film’s most significant problem, though, is with its three main protagonists. Segurini is a one-note character: a repulsive and exasperating boor who cannot accept the concept of ‘no means no.’ But, just at the point where you have him pegged as the villain of the piece, Green suddenly reveals that she can’t choose between him and Diamant. This development comes entirely out of left-field and, with no foreshadowing whatsoever, looks incredibly forced and has no credibility. Up to that point, Green was giggling her way through the film (presumably in an effort to look cute), but the character now appears to be really, really stupid. Diamant reacts to the problem by assuming the cliched role of ‘predatory lesbian with a firearm’. Most of the audience probably lost sympathy with her anyway, realising that she’d fallen for such a vacuous airhead as Green.
The problem here is not with the actors or their performances; it’s with the writing. This is a film that leaves you with the impression that shooting may have started without a finished script. Scenes don’t appear improvised as such, but many sequences serve no dramatic purpose and lack sufficient weight to inform the character’s motivations in the final third. It’s difficult to understand why either Segurini or Diamant would want to be with the vapid Green, let alone fight over her.
On the plus side, the island is a beautiful location and Amadio utilises it well in some of the climactic scenes where his actors stalk each other through some abandoned ruins. It was also probably quite a challenge to get some of the shots, given the topography of the landscape. There’s also some critique of the privileged lifestyle of our principals. This was par for the course with Italian films of this period, so we see Green leafing through a magazine while a news report about Vietnam plays on the radio. One moment, she is staring at pictures of starving children, the next she has flipped the page to the latest fashions. It’s not subtle, but it’s an effective moment.
There are a couple of unanswered questions too. Why does Diamant light up a cigarette almost every time that she appears on screen? She does it so often that it almost gets to be funny, and would make a good (if quite dangerous!) audience drinking game. Perhaps the actor was just looking for something to do with her hands. Also, there’s the film’s original title which roughly translates as ‘Island of the Swedish Girls.’ Although there is little biographical information on either actress (this was Green’s only screen appearance), it doesn’t appear that either was Scandanavian and the Swedish nationality is never mentioned in the film. Perhaps ‘Swedish Girls’ were a box office draw in Italy at the time?
Given the film’s lack of quality, it’s surprising to find that Amadio was a screenwriter and director with more than a decade of experience, previous projects including the dreary borderline Giallo ‘Assassination In Rome/Il Segreto del Vestito Rosso’ (1965) with Cyd Charisse. What is more surprising is that he went onto the favourably regarded Gialli ‘Amuck’ (1972) which starred Farley Granger, Barbara Bouchet and Rosalba Neri and ‘Smile Before Death’ (1972) which featured Neri again. His subsequent career mainly involved a series of sex comedies starring Gloria Guida, Miss Teenage Italy 1974.
A thin story, unlikeable characters and a lack of story development make this a rather tedious experience, and one for Giallo completists only.
Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere (1972) – Mark David Welsh