8 June 2006 | Snake-666
Sergio Martino impresses with another giallo.
Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) is an alcoholic, sadistic and despicable has-been writer, whom has recently lost his mother, regularly abuses and humiliates his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) and engages in illicit relationships at any given opportunity. When one of his mistresses is found brutally murdered the suspicions of both the police and his wife fall on Oliviero whose problems are confounded by the arrival of Floriana (Edwige Fenech), his young and beautiful niece with an unclear agenda.
Following on from the success of his earlier gialli with the name being a reference to 'The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971)', director Sergio Martino presents this sleazy, violent and thoroughly nasty film which experiments with new ideas and style while remaining true to the elements of his previous work that yielded such positive results. The story is awash with complexity and subtext, lacking the famed ambiguity of some similar films yet with a unique and pronounced outlandishness that serves to augment the resplendent qualities by providing distraction from the more orthodox traits of the story. Perhaps unusually for the genre, characterisation is fundamental as each character becomes progressively defined and both their motivations and psychological status come to be analysed and as such this aspect is as integral to the film as any other. Themes such as misogynism, sadomasochism, the treatment of sex as a weapon, voyeurism and most notably a trenchant concentration on the Oedipus-complex add substance and depth to the characters and story in an area of cinema often criticised for not having such and even the motivations of an ominous cat fittingly named Satan become important as the events unfurl. The narrative moves at a slow, deliberate pace, perpetually ripening, twisting and turning, leading us to believe one thing before proving the untruth and even changing genres to a point. All of this builds up to a rapid chain of events towards the end that seek to overturn everything we already know and this leads to a mostly satisfying, if somewhat predictable, climax.
'Vice' is also a stylistic treat. Martino collaborates with cinematographer, Giancarlo Ferrando and composer Bruno Nicolai and the three ensure that the visual and audible elements of the film are near perfect. The beauty of the film is predominantly founded upon the malevolent aspects of the storyline. The chronic use of darkness and shadow help to create a mesmerising yet distinctly intimidating and alarming atmosphere invoking uncomfortable feelings of trepidation while the tension and suspense is allowed to build to boiling point. Violence is filmed in such a way that the loathsome nature of the act is harnessed with erratic camera-work and quick splices of cruelty, while the bloody aftermaths are displayed to full, gruesome effect. Sex is treated ostensibly and despite a poetic presentation there is often an unquestionably vile and repugnant aura to the act which becomes more discernible as events progress. One particular stylistic flourish sees a quick insertion of the menacing cat's eyes during scenes, becoming more frequent to the end and perhaps used symbolically to represent the mental breakdowns of the characters and the relationship breakdown between Oliviero and Irina. Furthermore, these quick flashes of menace coupled with several darkened sequences involving the snarling and vicious cat add a disorienting effect and engender yet more discomfort from the viewer. The subtle use of the soundtrack, which mostly comprises soft, unostentatiously elegant music blends with the visuals in a pleasing manner and helps to control the ambiance unobtrusively.
The somewhat predictable conclusion is perhaps the most glaring shortcoming. Those who have seen Martino's earlier gialli may regard one particular aspect of the end as indicative of being formulaic while those who recognise the principal influence for the story will be less surprised at the eventual outcome. These are minor complaints but worthy of note. Vice could also be criticised for being a character-driven film that leaves several key questions unanswered. One could theorise as to why this is but perhaps the most likely explanation is that Martino wished for there to remain an element of mystery. Whether this is welcome or unwelcome will no doubt depend on the subjectivity of the audience. Criticisms aside, 'Vice' is fine film-making and certainly ranks amongst the genres elite as Sergio Martino once again excels.