‘Why don’t we talk about the construction of the tennis court?’
A shipwreck survivor washes up on a rocky, barren island. The only sign of habitation is a group of strange buildings, which appear to have been abandoned years earlier. Later on, he sees couples dancing to an old gramophone on the edge of a cliff, but when he approaches one of the group, she simply ignores him.
Unusual Italian science fiction project directed by Emidio Greco and based on a novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. From the very beginning, the film refuses to pander to the audience, providing no information to pinpoint the story location, time period, or the identity and circumstances of main protagonist Giulio Brogi. lt’s an approach that’s quite refreshing in an era where films often open with lots of exposition, provided either via captions or a narrative voiceover. Here, not a word of dialogue is spoken in the first half hour of this film, and it’s a tribute to Greco’s talent as a director that he keeps the audiences invested in our castaway’s plight.
Part of the credit for this has to go down to the ‘look’ of the film and its technical accomplishments. The Maltese location is quite striking and its timeless quality is emphasised by the superbly crisp photography of Silvano lppoliti, whose long career involved projects for directors such as Riccardo Freda, Sergio Corbucci and Tinto Brass, including the notorious ‘Caligula’ (1979). Whether the buildings were constructed specifically for the purpose of the film or already existed is unclear, but they are certainly impressive and credit should also be given to Amedeo Fago for the production design of the interiors.
As the film progresses, Brogi becomes more and more bewildered, the island’s occupants seeming to be a weekend party who dress in 1920s fashions, look right through him, and carry on the same conversations over and over again. They even dance to their gramophone in the middle of a rainstorm. All the while, he is falling for the beautiful Anna Karina, who also seems to be the target of their host, the steely Morel (John Steiner).
After some time and no further story progression, the audience can be forgiven for suspecting that nothing is going to be resolved and what they are witnessing is an exercise in pretension, which will need intellectual film critics to explain. But this is not the case. The answer to the mystery does come, and it is surprising and quite original. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really leave the story with many places to go afterwards.
Greco was undoubtedly aiming for a very slow burn and, while the film has a strange fascination, it doesn’t really have enough story for its 110 minute length, and some judicious tightening would have helped. The lack of information about our leading man (we don’t even ﬁnd out his name) and a low key performance from Brogi makes emotional connection with him a little difficult, and that’s crucial considering the film’s last act.
Karina was famous as a muse for 1960s ‘new wave’ film director Jean-Luc Goddard, appearing in ‘Alphaville’ (1965), ‘Bande à Part’ (1964) and several of his other films. Steiner was an English actor based in Italy and has an incredibly diverse filmography, credits including the afore-mentioned ‘Caligula’ (1979), horror maestro Mario Bava’s last film ‘Shock’ (1978), Dario Argento’s ‘Tenebrae’ (1982), and many ‘direct to video’ projects in the early 1980s. He also stole the show as the over the top villain in the wonderfully ridiculous ‘Sinbad of the Seven Seas’ (1989) with ‘Incredible Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno.
An intriguing setup and some memorable images make this one well worth seeking out. However, the slow pace means it’s certainly not for everyone.