After the death of his father, a young man returns home from Switzerland. He begins to suspect that his demise was no accident and that his older brother may have killed him to assume control of the family business. But is the conspiracy just a product of his twisted imagination?
Slow burning, arthouse drama that also comes with an element of mystery. The film has been categorised as a Giallo by some, but that’s probably as much to do with its Italian origin and cast of performers as its actual content. It’s plain that director Salvatore Samperi, who also co-wrote with famous Italian novelist Dacia Maraini, had something else on his mind rather than just delivering a conventional thriller or whodunnit.
Prodigal son Enrico Merlo (Maurizio Degli Esposti) arrives home on a livestock truck bound for one of the slaughterhouses operated by his family’s business. Rather than enter the old homestead the conventional way, he goes in via a first-floor window and witnesses older brother and sister Cesare and Verde (Jean Sorel and Marilù Tolo) giving his father’s corpse a surreptitious injection of something. Naturally suspicions of such shenanigans, he touches base with private detective Pier Paolo Capponi, convinced that his father was murdered.
Sadly, Esposti investigations consist primarily of going to see deranged housekeeper Talia (Alexa Paizi) at the local asylum and right out accusing Sorel of the crime. He also spends a worrying amount of time listening to his dead mother’s voice on a tape recorder. Yes, he might be young, pale and interesting, but he’s also got some serious issues. The film’s most memorable scene finds him creating a shrine to his mother by hanging up her old clothes while playing one of those tapes. Tolo comes in, wordlessly puts on the clothes and then offers him her naked breast. Fortunately, they are interrupted before the situation develops any further. Yes, this is one peculiar family, with a history of mental instability and the phantom of incest ever hovering in the background.
Sorel tries to straighten out Esposti by getting him to lose his virginity with prostitute Gabriela (Bernadette Kell), but the teenager is not interested. Sorel is intimate with her already, of course, even though he’s engaged to marry the lovely Ottavia (Noris Fiorina) and is quite probably sleeping with Tolo as well. The nature of the family business is no coincidence, either. Dead animals are a recurring motif throughout the film, with the family’s idea of a fun afternoon out involves a rifle and a dead dog in the river. As you’ve probably gathered by now, any thriller or mystery elements are taking a back seat.
The film does have its advocates, but this kind of project will always be an acquired taste. The cast makes no real effort to emote; Tolo remaining stone-faced throughout, and Sorel fading into the background. Given that both actors gave perfectly capable, and sometimes charismatic performances in other films, this seems to have a conscious artistic choice by director Samperi. What is he trying to say? Obvious the title’s a biblical reference, but, considering the way the story comes out, any comparison to the parable of the prodigal son must have been deliberately ironic. This notion is supported by Ennio Morricone’s score, which is often quite jaunty at times, especially considering the subject matter.
Perhaps what we have here is another critique of the idle rich, which were so common in Italian cinema of the time. It’s worth noting that the family’s successful business is down to the father’s hard work. Sorel already seems to be mismanaging its affairs, either through laziness or incompetence. More simply, of course, it might just be the story of one hell of a twisted family.
Samperi was active in the Italian film industry from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, almost always directing his own screenplays. Comedy romance ‘Malicious’ (1973) collected acting awards for some of its cast, and gay love story ‘Ernesto’ (1979) which told of love between an adult man and a young boy was highly controversial on release. Both Sorel and Tolo made several other, far more straightforward, Giallo pictures, with Sorel in appearing in some notable examples, including the Lucio Fulci films ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) and ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971). Esposti had a very brief career, comprising only four features, although these included Giulio Questi’s experimental horror drama ‘Arcana’ (1972).
Likely to divide audiences, this is a very strange entry in the Giallo sub-genre if it belongs there at all. There’s plenty to talk about, but that’s not always necessarily a good thing.