Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Baba Yaga (1973)

Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga is based on Guido Crepax’s Valentina comic books of the 60s. Valentina, a wealthy and successful photographer, finds herself involved in a series of increasingly eerie and unsettling events after an encounter with the mysterious blonde lesbian witch Baba Yaga. The witch takes from her an intimate item of clothing, and gives her in return a doll – a female doll, dressed in fetish gear. As you might expect, the doll turns out to be more than just a doll.

This 1973 movie forms an interesting companion piece to two earlier and better-known adaptations of adult-oriented comics, Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik and of course Vadim’s Barbarella. Much as I adore Danger: Diabolik and regard it as being the greatest of all movies based on comics, Baba Yaga is perhaps the most interesting film of the three. Much of the action is clearly taking place in Valentina’s dream world, an erotically charged world of disturbing and often violent imagery. It’s never quite clear how much, if anything, is actually taking place in the real world. While Bava’s classic film is pure fun with the emphasis on action and outrageous criminal capers, Baba Yaga is more in the fantasy/horror mould, and could possibly be described as magic realism. The emphasis is on the psychological, and specifically it’s an exploration of the fevered interiors of Valentina’s mind.

It’s by far the most arty comic book movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s also a great deal of fun. Isabelle De Funès as Valentina has a wonderful swinging 60s kind of look. Carroll Baker’s performance as Baba Yaga didn’t please everyone, but I think she’s marvellous – ever so subtly creepy, glamorously other-worldly, and with a strangely detached eroticism. Unfortunately the erotic nature of her obsession with Valentina was weakened somewhat by the censors’ decision to cut her nude scene. The scene is included in the extras on the Blue Underground DVD release, and provides a classic example of the silly and destructive nature of censorship, since it’s really the single most crucial scene in the movie.

Farina’s movie is visually impressive, and more importantly he captures the rhythms and the feel of comics more adroitly than anyone else has ever managed to do. Brilliant editing! The brief animated sequences using washed-out black-and-white still images are very effective, especially in the love scene between Valentina and her boyfriend - it’s not at all explicit, but it’s sexy, and it gets us right inside her head.

Blue Underground’s DVD includes some very desirable extras including an interview with the charming and erudite Farina (who sadly made only two feature films in a long career otherwise devoted mainly to documentaries) and a short documentary on the comic book art of Guido Crepax. Baba Yaga is stylish and intelligent and thoroughly enjoyable entertainment. This one’s a must-see!

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