Monday, September 03, 2012

Cinema Obscura: Anima Persa

"Anima Persa" (translated as "Lost Souls") is a completely weird effort. With acting pedigree as sublime as Catherine Deneuvue and Vittoria Gassman and shades of the giallo genre played out amongst the indelible images of a sprawling Venetian mansion, its a shame that "Anima Persa" isn't quite as good as it means to be.

Released in 1977 by the obviously prolific Dino Risi, "Anima Persa" deals with the arrival of a young student Tino (Danilo Mattei) in Venice to study painting. He moves in with his aunt (Deneuvue) and uncle (Gassman) and is quickly apprised that the old mansion holds secrets.... namely the confinement of another crazy uncle upstairs. Tino is forced into the psychological game between aunt and uncle. He is misogynistic, continually blaming Deneuevue for being "a stupid woman", unable to appreciate the finer things in life like his cherished opera records. She tells Tino about her daughter, supposedly murdered by the insane, pedophile uncle upstairs. Unable to believe or decipher the hatred between them, Tino goes on his own quest to uncover his family's secret past.

A better title would have been "Imprisoned Souls". Owing some rudimentary elements to the giallo genre, "Anima Persa" is far too tame in its suspense to qualify. Taking as its setting only two or three different locations- and a few exterior shots of the lovely Venice canal ways- "Anima Persa" instead chooses to act out a family psychological horror that often borders on extreme parody. Tino's love interest, Lucia (Anicee Alvina) meets him in art class (which looks like a holdover hippie protest) where she blithely strips nude for the class to sketch. Deneuvue, in one of her more strange, emotionless performances, rarely gets out of her pajamas and night gown and Gassman, as the controlling Uncle Stolz, is given a quick gambling habit towards the end of the film that neither explains him or the strange conclusion. A bit of Hitchcock and Argento thrown in for good measure don't tidy up the quite boring mess of Rosi's film. Perhaps my high expectations of an unheralded giallo gem soured my experience, but "Anima Persa" probably belongs as a true cinema obscura for good reasons.

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