Wednesday, May 16, 2012

102. LA SPECCHIO DAL PIACERE (1973)

This is the Italian hardcore version of Jess Franco's Al otro lado del espejo ("The other side of the mirror," 1973) for which, unusually, he accepted credit under his true full name, Jésus Franco Manera. The original Spanish version is one of Franco's finest works of the 1970s, a balmy and poetic story about a young musician's psychological breakdown in the wake of her father's suicide. It has the particular distinction of spotlighting the only performance in Franco's sprawling filmography of actress Emma Cohen, the wife of his longtime friend and associate, director Fernando Fernán Gómez, who had not only acted in his earlier success Rififi en la ciudád (1963), but had directed his well-received performance in the film El extraño viaje (1964). Cohen -- sporting an ANNIE HALL-like tuxedo at one point -- gives one of the most fully-realized performances to be found in Franco's work, but they never worked together again. (She had previously played one of the vampire brides in his COUNT DRACULA of 1970, uncredited.) The reason for the parting of their ways might be found in this tasteless, XXX corruption of a film of which the entire cast and crew could be proud, which not only keeps Cohen's name in the credits but demotes her starring role a few levels below that of bit player Alice Arno.

In this variation, which renames Cohen's character of Ana Olivera to Annette Whitman, Franco tweaks the plot so that it is Annette's sister Marie (Lina Romay) who commits suicide rather than her father (Howard Vernon), and there are badly filmed inserts alluding to a past incestuous relationship between them. Images of Marie beckoning to her from the other sides of mirrors (always in the company of other lovers, including Romay's boyfriend of the time, Ramon Ardíd) unhinge Annette, who continues to develop a samba-like song that she was in the process of writing when she allowed the news of Marie's death to upset her plans to marry Arthur (Wal Davis). Arthur gets off safely, but anyone who professes their love to Annette thereafter finds themselves murdered with an ancient dagger that seems to magically appear somewhere she can grab it. For some reason, Alice Arno is seen on both sides of the mirror, playing Annette's friend Clara and also one of dead Marie's ghostly lesbian friends. Annette's male suitors are played by Robert Woods, Simón Andreu (THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE) and Philippe Lemaire, who plays half of a swinging couple with an unhealthy-looking Françoise Brion. Like FEMALE VAMPIRE (La comtesse noir, 1973), the story is set on the Portuguese island of Madeira, no doubt incorporating scenic footage acquired during the same trip.

Whereas the editing of the Spanish version is credited to Mercedes Alonso, this variant is credited to filmmaker Gérard Kikoïne (EDGE OF SANITY), who had indeed edited another half-dozen Franco films during this period, including a real masterpiece, LORNA THE EXORCIST (Les possedées du diable, 1974). With the rewritten narrative forcing him to cycle certain footage and cut it together with material the original storyline struggles to reject, there is not much Kikoïne could do to save the day, and the result lacks the more assured cutting rhythms of the original. Making matters worse, the hardcore footage is generally uninspired and begs to be fast-forwarded through. This is a level or two above trash (if only for completists); the original is an important film and begs for a wider release.

Viewed via DVD-R.

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