4 stars Fiesty Fromage!
directed by: Carlo Lizzani
starring: Erland Josephson, Béatrice Romand, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Milena Vukotic

choice dialogue:

“Her blood spurted all about. Like a fountain!"

- the visitor makes Franca feel a little tense.

slash with panache?
[review by JA Kerswell]

This clever giallo - made around ten years after the genre's heyday - packs enough twists and turns to satisfy most fans, although it could frustrate those looking for more conventional thrills.

  Is Franca's husband (Vittorio Mezzogiorno) a good guy or is he out to get her?

A couple, Antonio (Vittorio Mezzogiorno) and Franca (Algerian actress Béatrice Romand), have been together for four years and are outwardly happy; they even discuss starting a family. However, Antonio is concerned about Franca's nightly erotic dreams about her stepfather, which she loudly vocalises. To add to his frustration, Franca remember's nothing of her furtive oohing and aahing in the morning.

Seemingly coincidentally, the couple are having a clear out and decide to sell a valuable yellow carpet Franca's stepfather gifted them, which is too big for their small apartment. An advert appears in the local newspaper and Franca soon gets a call from a man enquiring about it. She tells Antonio that the man's voice was vaguely familiar, but she can't place it. Shortly afterwards, Antonio receives a call about his car being towed and leaves Franca alone to try and resolve the problem.

A smartly dressed, middle-aged man (Ingmar Bergman favourite, Swedish actor Erland Josephson) turns up at the door and Franca lets him in; telling him that Antonio will be back any moment. However, Antonio does not return and the man - who was originally quite agreeable - acts increasingly strangely and eventually becomes violent. Franca tries to flee the apartment, but the man will not let her go and secures the exits and shutters the windows. He drugs Franca and quizzes her about her relationship with her stepfather and gets her to admit that she was jealous of her mother - yet denies that her relationship was ever sexual with him. He tells her that Antonio has not returned because he has paid him to kill her. He says that he has just been released from prison for killing his wife on a carpet very like the one she is selling. The man makes Franca lie on the carpet and then slashes her breasts; telling her he just wanted to see how sharp his knife was. Understandably panicked, Franca takes her chance to grab the knife when she can and manages to stab the man to death. She then wraps his body in the yellow carpet he had come to buy.

  Franca (Béatrice Romand) defends herself against her mysterious visitor

Barely before she can compose herself, there is a knock at the door. A smartly dressed woman (Milena Vukotic, who is probably best known for Luis Bruñel's THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972)) enquires about her husband, who she says may have called. She tells her that he used to be an actor, but an accident robbed him of his ability to learn lines and now he gains access under false pretences to ad-lib scenes with random strangers. The woman says the man is otherwise harmless. Franca understandably thinks this is a little far-fetched (even for a giallo!). Aware of the body in the other room, she denies seeing the man and asks the woman to leave.

The next thing Franca knows she awakes in her own bed. Antonio has returned and says she must have dreamt the whole scenario, as there is no body in the living room and he says he sold the carpet to a man whilst she slept. Franca scours the flat for clues that she did not dream or hallucinate the murder, but cannot find any. Was the murder real or was it a dream? What secret is Antonio hiding? And who were the strange visitors if they ever existed at all?

Given it's limited location - 95% of the film takes places within the flat and centres around just four characters - it is probably unsurprising that THE HOUSE OF THE YELLOW CARPET was adapted from a play (by Aldo Selleri). However, it translates very well to the screen and the limited locations aid the feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia considerably.

Whilst this is not a traditional giallo - insomuch you will not find a black gloved killer lurking in the shadows - the film's strength lies in its clever plotting and genuinely surprising twists. Although it does more than once push credibility to breaking point, just when you can't fathom how the film will get itself out of the corner it has seemingly painted itself in it does so and does so with aplomb. The way that the central characters switch from potential innocents to villains and then even back again numerous times will keep viewers on their toes. Same with the way the film deftly plays with what is real and what isn't and with clever misdirection. I think it is fair to say that I had absolutely no idea how the film would play out. The film also has a streak of mischievous black comedy running throughout - not least of all in regards to the fifth main character: the yellow (giallo is the Italian word for yellow) carpet itself. However, the comedy is bone dry, thankfully, and doesn't detract from the thriller aspects at all.

  Those blood stains will be murder to get out of that yellow carpet!

Some viewers less seasoned with Italian genre cinema may find the acting a little on the theatrical side. Yet, it is uniquely fitting given the films origins as well as the direction it eventually takes.

Despite its vintage, THE HOUSE OF THE YELLOW CARPET does not tip its hat to the American slasher (in the way that Dario Argento's TENEBRAE (1982)) arguably does). If anything, the psychosexual psychobabble is a much closer fit to many of the plot devices and underlying themes of earlier, more perverse giallo. That's not to say it skimps on the violence and nudity - there are glimpses of both (the most startling of all being a graphic, yet, non murderous needle injection into an eyeball socket). There are also distinct hints of Film Noir throughout. The film was produced for TV, which may explain its undeserved obscurity. Despite this, the film made the official selection at Cannes Film Festival in 1983.

Director Carlo Lizzani had 70 directorial credits to his name, yet strangely - although he was working during the giallo's heyday - THE HOUSE WITH THE YELLOW CARPET was his only example in that field. Sadly, Lizzani took his own life aged 91 in 2013 by leaping to his death from a building in Rome. Most of the people involved with film were not known for previous work within the genre. A notable exception was Stelvio Cipriani, who scored this as well as the gialli A BAY OF BLOOD, THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE and DEATH WALKS IN HIGH HEELS (all 1971), amongst many, many other genre credits.


BODYCOUNT 1  bodycount!   female:0 / male:1

       1) Male poisoned