|Cast:||Fabio Testi, Christina Galbo, Karin Baal, Joachim Fuchsberger, Camille Keaton|
|Screenplay:||Massimo Dallamano & Bruno Di Geronimo from Edgar Wallace's novel "The Clue of the New Pin"|
I appreciate super stylized horror set pieces as much as the next guy, but the problem with so many genre films is they simply toss a thin, seven thousand times rehashed story around them and call that a “movie”. What Have They Done to Solange? is one of the most successful giallos because it’s actually well written, and thus doesn’t need to try to do too much.
Memory is a key to any good giallo, but I find What Have You Done to Solange? works better because it’s largely a starting point. Married all girls catholic school Italian/gymnastics teacher Enrico ‘Henry’ Rosseni (Fabio Testi) and underage student Elizabeth Seccles (Cristina Galbo) are out rowing one afternoon, some leisure that Enrico hopes will mostly be spent on their backs, but before he can get anywhere with Elizabeth, she sees a classmate fleeing, the flash of the blade, and perhaps some more if we believe her nightmares, although it doesn’t make much sense to her at the time.
The mystery plot never stops thickening, unfolding slowly but surely until its startling denouement. As there’s amazingly enough material for the actual murder mystery and the movie aspires to some level of intelligence and complexity, Solange manages to be a high brow entry for the genre. At least keeping things focused and within the realm of reason, Solange doesn’t falter by going off on the usual wild giallo tangents where the director throws in psychedelic dream sequences or simply WTF red herring scenes to distract or amuse the viewer while filling out the 90 minute run time.
My problem with most mysteries is they are, at best, more mysterious than interesting because the story isn’t developed to the point of being truly compelling. Solange certainly isn’t the greatest pure mystery ever made, it’s more a procedural that allows you to conjure theories about the identity of the killer, but as the pieces began to pile up, I was increasingly more intrigued in trying to figure the whole thing out. This is crucial because the majority of the film is merely a lead in for the final portion that links the disparate characters and actions together so as to reveal not just an indiscriminant answer to a riddle, but rather finally tell the actual story of the film.
Director Massimo Dallamano, a cinematographer for 20 years before becoming a director, is most famous for lensing the first two parts of Sergio Leone’s dollar trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Principal photography on Solange is handled by Joe D’Amato, who despite soon turning into a poor sleeze director, was actually quite a good photographer. Shot in 2:35, the composition is excellent and really demands to be seen on a widescreen to fully appreciate the perspective that’s intended to be shown.
Given the men behind What Have They Done to Solange, it’s not surprising that the film contains very intriguing cinematography, particularly handheld and tracking shots, as well as peculiar angles that just manage to obscure the killer’s face. What is surprising is the amount of restraint Dellamano shows in all areas, refusing to do anything that would take too much focus off the mystery. Instead of cute but unnecessary flourish, the principle goal of the photography is to flush out the various themes such as spying, skewed perception, and memory triggering. The film isn’t constructed via the usual shot-mastershot structure, as the goal is to edit the scenes as little as necessary. By allowing the camera to constantly follow the action in unbroken shots – a mix of pans, tilts, and zooms – Dallamano presents his work as if seen through the point of view of an unseen onlooker. This is a particularly creepy tactic because the killings are always shown from the POV of the killer, so the technique implies the murderer is watching their every move.
At face value, it’s difficult to defend the cultivation of a film where a serial killer is running around ramming a blade up teenager’s vaginas. I suppose, at its core, Solange is as lurid, trashy, and exploitive as any other giallo, but it certainly comes off far more classy because it refuses to sensationalize either the crimes or the debauchery of the far from innocent young girls. What Have They Done to Solange? doesn’t really want to be a thriller, and certainly avoids being a slasher picture, keeping almost all the violence offscreen. Beyond Massimo Dallamano’s movie largely being about solving the crimes, whatever they may be, the big difference lies in the overall attitude. Even the most shocking killings and revelations are handled in a very matter of fact manner that keeps the film from reeking of sensationalism.
More nasty than gory, What Have They Done to Solange? has a darker, less glorified depiction of murder and immorality. This is not to say What Have You Done to Solange is in any way shy, but rather it understands two things. First, that keeping things to the imagination is often to the benefit of the quality of the film, and second that no one is really going to take your judgements seriously when you couch them in this material, so it’s ultimately more effective and interesting to avoid forcing righteousness upon the audience.
Enrico is as much a suspect because he’s resented by his peers for being the young, good looking foreign teacher in the British private school a foreigner. We know that, however questionable his actions may be, he’s certainly innocent of murder, so the film works through the classic wrong man angle once his initial indiscretions make him the only suspect. However, as Enrico is hardly the saint portrayed by Henry Fonda in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, the film instead explores how the selfishness and curiosity of all the characters makes them of dubious morality at some point or another. There is no character that is utterly good or likeable, but they aren’t depicted as evil either. The detachment inherent to the investigation seems to work perfectly, to play right into the ambiguous, somewhat irrelevant morals of the characters.
Whether we like or dislike, trust or distrust the characters is never really a focus. The film isn’t out to make any statement about values, so rather than ask or even allow us to pass judgement, our focus is consistently shifted to the bodies that are piling up while an innocent man is the only one the police have any real evidence against. This proves Inspector Barth (Joachim Fuchsberger) can’t be trusted to stop the killing spree on his own, so Enrico and his uptight but understanding German teacher wife Herta (Karin Baal) decide they must conduct their own investigation, which sometimes intertwines and overlaps Barth’s own legwork.