April 14, 2016


Clive is an Italian diplomat married to what can only be described as a walking bag of annoyance. His rich wife, Diana, treats him like a child, pestering him about his choice of clothing, his schedule, his health and, most importantly to Clive, his doting over his tankful of exotic fish. Worse, she's cheating on him with Franz, a German friend whose newly opened clinic was bankrolled by Diana. In-between fantasizing about murdering his wife in a variety of ways and gritting his teeth during awkward dinners with Franz, Clive begins to hatch a scheme to change his life for the better. Warned that his social situation is in danger if he files for a divorce, Clive settles for the next best option. He has in his possession an official paper that would prove that Franz worked for the Germans (read: the Nazis) during the war, a charge that would land him in prison. So he offers Franz a way out: murder Diana and dismember her body, placing the bits and pieces inside two large, black suitcases, and he'll get rid of the paper.

His back against the wall, Franz agrees, delivering the suitcases to Clive in the dead of night. Clive then sets off to Tangier to dump the suitcases into pits of acid located at a tannery owned by his now-deceased wife's family. Aboard the plane, Clive meets several women, most notably Elena, a fashion model on her way to a job in the city. Though he has a few close calls with the police in the airport, Clive manages to make his way to the acid pits once the tannery closes for the evening. He dumps the first suitcase and is primed to dump the second when he suddenly realizes that something is very, very wrong. The second suitcase does not belong to him. It belongs to a woman, possibly one of the three women he met on the plane. It also hasn't escaped his attention that one of the cops he met at the airport has been following him around. With the walls slowly closing in around him and cops on his trail, Clive rushes to find his lost suitcase and dump it in the acid before he's found out. But a strange letter containing damning evidence is soon delivered to him from an anonymous source. It might already be too late for Clive.

Released sometime in early 1970, Alfonso Brescia's awkwardly titled giallo, YOUR SWEET BODY TO KILL (it sounds better in Italian), has much more in common with the gialli of the late 60s than it does with many of its same-year contemporaries. Before Argento codified the giallo film with his 1970 debut THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, the giallo film took many forms, from bloodless sex thrillers to cutting edge, mod-friendly pieces of pop art. The giallo was not yet a genre creatively strangled by murder mystery tropes. They were crime thrillers, first and foremost, sometimes not even featuring a single scene of physical violence. YOUR SWEET BODY TO KILL is one of those films unconcerned with bloody violence. Sure, people die during the films running time, but that isn't the focus of the narrative. This isn't a film about stopping a murder or witnessing a murder. It's about getting away with one.

In the same way Hitchcock decided to twist the audience in knots with PSYCHO and turn a murder accomplice into its main character, Brescia's film gives us Clive, a man whose murder (or rather the murder he orchestrated) is presented to us as an almost justified action. Diana is such a loathsome, self important, nagging, despicable creature that her murder barely registers as a murder at all. It comes across more as an act of vindication on the part of Clive, a freeing of himself, like a slave breaking his chains. What do we care if Franz had to be the one to cut her to pieces? He's a Nazi sympathizer. Clive, on the other hand, just wanted to pick out his own clothes and feed his fish and make his own schedule and be an actual adult human being for once in his miserable, anxiety-ridden life. He's such a pathetically castrated weakling that you can't help but feel sympathy for him, hoping beyond hope that he can toss that last suitcase in the acid and be free to live his life. The idea that he could be caught at any time reverses our inner sense of justice. In the same way we the audience shared Norman's anxiety over watching Marion's car slowly sink into the swamp, the constant sightings of cops and delivering of incriminating evidence shreds our nerves here. It's a delicious kind of moral reversal.

But well before the giallo elements kick into high gear during the third act, Brescia (one of the worst Italian genre filmmakers of the 1970s, though you wouldn't know that by watching this film) pulls off an even more impressive trick. The first two acts of YOUR SWEET BODY TO KILL are surprisingly funny and not in the unintentional kind of way. This is a deliriously, wickedly absurd film and it knows it. From the daydreams of tossing his wife over an overpass to the fantasy of gunning down cops James Bond-style at the airport, Clive's inner fantasy world is equal parts childish role play and full blown anguished scream. The film goes to such great lengths to infantilize this man that the whole film becomes this weird pseudo-comedy-cum-revenge film where Diana's swapping out of Clive's precious fish tank for a cartoonish painting of a cat licking it's lips is treated as this incredibly vicious personal attack, like setting someone's mother on fire. When Clive finally sits down with Elena in Tangier, the two start talking about, of all things, fish and the conversation, mixed with the carefully crafted close-ups of lips and eyes, comes off as a really bizarre scene of softcore foreplay. There's a scene of Clive walking through the airport behind his valet, desperately trying to squeegee away the drops of blood leaking out of his suitcase with his loafer-clad feet as everyone watches him with equal parts fascination and confusion.

The first two thirds of this film are so incredibly engaging and strangely hilarious that the descent into thriller territory during the final act feels like a massive letdown. Giallo films are not known for their coherent endings, most of which rely on bizarre reversals of logic or deus ex machinas to wrap up their stories, and YOUR SWEET BODY TO KILL is no exception. It all goes how you think it will go, from the last minute arrival of a familiar face to the expected reveal of who was sending Clive those letters. It doesn't make much sense and quite frankly, that doesn't really matter, because it's the journey that's important, right? Not the destination. And this film is one hell of a great trip. It's a really enjoyable film, one that balances the humor and absurdity with genuine tension and spot-on characterization. Everything about this film works even if it's not quite the giallo you would expect it to be.

Seek this one out for a good time.

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