Sunday, February 25, 2007

Overlooked Classics: Le Orme


Look among every decades most popular and respected films and you will find countless films that fall between the cracks. Some will eventually get rediscovered while others will just sit dormant, literally dissolving, until they disappear forever. The 1970's seem to have an unlimited supply of films from all over the world that are continually getting re-discovered by a new generation of film fans. Genre films seem to hold the most mystery and continually provide the biggest thrill among fans hungry for something unique and valuable.
Luigi Bazzoni is a writer and director who has relatively few films to his credits. The two most well known would be the films he made with Franco Nero in 1968 and 1971, the Euro-Western Man Pride and Vengeance and the giallo The Fifth Cord. 1975 would see Bazzoni deliver a film that has to my knowledge never been released anywhere on DVD and at this point grey market copies are all that are available.

Entitled Le Orme, but also known as Footprints on The Moon and Primal Impulse, this odd little film features one of Florinda Bolkan's finest performances and remains one of the more impenetrable films of the seventies. The plot recalls, at times, Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad and would look forward to the underrated Astronaut's Wife. It tells the story of a translator named Alice, played beautifully by Bolkan, who loses three days of her life. The film follows her attempts to discover what happened to her in those three days and she is led to a mysterious hotel in the town of Garma. Here she meets several people, including young Nicoletta Elmi in one of her best roles, who remember her either as Alice or a mysterious 'Nicole'.

Throughout the film we are presented with a strange reoccurring dream that Alice keeps having. The dream is of an astronaut who, in a experiment by the government, was left behind on the moon. Alice remembers this as a scene from a film, entitled Footprints on the Moon, that she saw years before. Bazzoni directs this film with an extreme confidence and he leads us slowly through to a conclusion that is as odd as we expect it will be. He uses many long and slow tracking shots that give the film an incredibly lonely and isolated feel.
The film's most brilliant move is the visual comparisons between the beach in Garma that Alice is drawn to and the landscape of the moon she keeps dreaming of. Le Orme was based on a novel by Mario Fanelli and he is credited as the co-screenwriter (sometimes even as co-director) with Bazzoni. I would be most interested to read the book, as the film feels more like a short story or perhaps even a longer prose poem.
One of the film's biggest selling points is the cinematography by none other than Vittorio Storaro, who would shoot this film right before his work on Bertolucci's 1900. The film's blue and near black and white moon shots match perfectly the disconnection Alice is having from the world around her. One of the film's most striking images is the hotel room with a colorful oriental style peacock panel as the splash of colors this provides will have special significance towards the end of the film.

Bolkan, as stated previously, gives another one of her trademark intense performances. We believe her every step of the way and the film's final moments might be ridiculous if it weren't for Florinda's dedication and believability. Nicoletta Elmi has one of her largest roles and that alone makes the film notable for Italian film fans. Followers of Italian cinema will recognize Evelyn Stewart who appears briefly and Klaus Kinski also has a small role as the government scientist. Nicola Piovani provides the fine score, which recalls at times his work on Perfume Of A Lady In Black. It isn't one of his most haunting works but I would be curious to know if it was ever available on record.
Talented director Luigi Bazzoni wouldn't shoot another film for another twenty years, and when he finally followed up Le Orme it was with a documentary. To this day, Le Orme is the final fictional feature film from Bazzoni, a fact that marks him as one of the most mysterious Italian directors of the seventies.
Le Orme is another one of those films deserving to be seen by more people. Perhaps flawed and overly ambitious at times, it remains one of the most unique and overlooked Italian films from the seventies. Seek it out and see if you can unravel its mystery.

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