Footprints on the Moon (Le orme) is yet another delightfully off-beat slice of Italian cult movie weirdness brought to us by Shameless DVD.
It was directed by Luigi Bazzoni, with cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, the same combination responsible for the visually stunning 1971 giallo The Fifth Cord. That was enough to persuade me to buy Footprints on the Moon. And the look of the movie is just as impressive, in a low-key kind of way. Which is what I expected really, since The Fifth Cord lacks the visual extravagance normally associated with the giallo genre. It’s visual style done with subtlely and in a very classy manner; a long way from the excesses of Argento. Not that I have a problem with Argento’s style - this is simply different.
Florinda Bolkan is Alice, a woman working as an interpreter in Rome. She’s been having some odd dreams, dreams about astronauts dying on the Moon. As her current assignment involves an international conference on astronautics it’s perhaps not altogether surprising that she should have dreams about space exploration, but the dreams make her very uneasy nonetheless. The nightmares centre on a strange conspiracy by a shadowy agency run by the obsessive Dr Blackmann (Klaus Kinski). This agency has some connection with the deaths of the astronauts. Even more disturbing is her discovery that she seems to have lost three days out of her life.
She also finds a blank postcard, featuring a view of the town of Garma. She’s quite sure she’s never been there, but now she feels strangely drawn to the place. Garma is an old, historic and rather beautiful town, and Alice is just starting to feel a bit more relaxed when she has a strange counter with a child. The child, a girl, insists that she saw Alice on the beach a week ago, and that her name is really Nicole. Other people in the town seem to vaguely recognise her as well, but no-one can be certain. And she’s still having the dreams about the Moon. I really can’t say any more about the plot without running the risk of giving too much away.
At first I thought the print that Shameless had used was a little washed out, but it soon became obvious that this was merely the effect of the slightly unusual colour palette chosen by the film-makers. Everything, absolutely everything, is in muted earth colours. Not the colour scheme you expect in a giallo. The lunar scenes are in black-and-white, and the use of subdued earth tones in the colour sequences means that black-and-white sequences don’t seem as discordant as they might have done. The use of colour also gives both dream and non-dream sequences a slightly dream-like quality.
But is it a giallo? In fact it resembles another recent Shameless release, The Frightened Woman, in being a film that deliberately undermines genre expectations. Is it a giallo, a science fiction film, a psychological thriller, or a gothic horror in a modern setting? At various times it gives indications of belonging to all of these genres. And once the setting moves to Garma there is a dramatic switch from the modernist interiors and architecture that have dominated the early part of the film to a setting that could just as easily be the 19th century. In fact the movie starts to look more like a Visconti movie than a typical giallo.
Florinda Bolkan is an actress I’ve always liked, and she gives a quietly powerful performance. She entirely dominates the movie, the success of which depends entirely on her performance.
It’s a very odd movie that could easily have come badly unstuck, but Bazzoni keeps a firm grip on proceedings and a plot that could have seemed overly bizarre actually works quite well. The pacing is leisurely, or perhaps stately would be a better description. This is clearly deliberate, and it succeeds. We’re slowly drawn in by the strangeness of this woman’s situation, and elements that initially seemed merely slightly unsettling become more and more bewildering. Alice’s growing fear slowly infects the viewer as well.
If you approach this film expecting a typical piece of 1970s Italian exploitation film-making you’re going to be surprised, but if you stick with it I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. While it’s perhaps not a great film it’s unusual enough to be fascinating, and it’s an exceptionally beautiful film.
We’ve become accustomed to superb DVD presentations from Shameless and this is no exception. If you’re in the mod for something different, give this one a try.