Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Venus of Ille (1979) Mario Bava, Lamberto Bava

Until now I've liked through to outright loved every Mario Bava film I've seen, and only once got less than solid cock eyed entertainment from his son Lamberto. I'm fond of ambiguity, fantasy, Gothic romance, not the corrosive kind unfortunately popular these days but real yearning for the beyond. So The Venus of Ille should have been an easy winner for me, co-directed and written by the younger, but instead it only just about passes. The story sees antique lover Matthew come to the town of Ille to see its recent discovery, a bronze statue of Venus that crushes a workman's leg early on but is still generally thought to be a good thing. Matthew is entranced by the Venus, but also by Claire, engaged to boorish and boozy landowners son Alfonzo. Of course there's something more going on, the statue may be haunted or cursed. Could it even be alive? It's a good story, taken from a 19th century tale by Prosper Merimee and filmed several times previously, but the treatment here is not altogether satisfying. Slow burning, intent on character and atmosphere, this is interesting but lacking in drive or true engagement. The best aspect is Daria Nicolodi as Claire, the camera adores her, drawing out strength, intelligence through an enigmatic air, beautiful but unusual, she is just ideal for this sort of film. The Venus is interesting too, the camera also circles to draw out mystery, hints of life, drawing parallels, weaving a spell. I also enjoyed Matthew, his quietness, curiosity, artistic and romantic probing are quite interesting. But really, not enough happens here. Until the climax the few scares are not much effective and filler sequences including tennis and cookery (chopping meat, pulling out guts, cracking eggs etc.) bulk out the plot without adding much beyond a bit of sense of place and time. There are only a few small moments of the old Bava visual magic and those are diminished from his best, fun but not the sort to linger long in the memory. And all in all there's a lack of substance, this intrigues but never really locks down, sizzle without much steak. Not quite full on dull but in the environs, quite disappointing. 

A browse of a few other reviews of this indicates that it is better liked by others, a fitting swansong, superior to Schock, etc. And there's enough here for a tentative recommendation to those like me particularly interested in this kind of thing, especially if they can find a decent looking print (being a TV film I don't suppose its ever looked spectacular but I'm sure some are still better than others). But personally I'm not that convinced. Watch if you must I guess.

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