From a novel by Giovanni Arpino, Dino Risi’s Jamesian Anima persa is a voluptuous entertainment set mostly in a Venetian mansion that is at once luxuriant and decaying. Open the roll-top cover of the parlor piano and a bevy of rats come pouring out.
Nineteen-year-old art student Tino is visiting his uncle and aunt, Fabio and Sofia Stolz (Vittorio Gassman, Catherine Deneuve). Weird sounds come down from the attic, where he learns that Fabio’s demented brother, a former science professor who obsesses on insects and arachnids, is kept locked up following the death of Bebe, Sofia’s young, innocent daughter from her first marriage—a death for which there are competing scenarios.
Risi regular Gassman is brilliant as imperious, at times frighteningly severe Fabio, whose misogynism is linked to his adoration of the innocence that girls must relinquish in becoming women. (Fabio identifies even the reunification of Italy—Risorgimento—with a loss of innocence.) He likens women to vegetables and explains to Tino why he married Sofia: “There was a lull in the conversation, I didn’t know what to say, so I told her I loved her.” Fabio’s brother may not be the only mad Stolz scampering about.
Risi’s film is gorgeous, partly by dint of his fluent use of camera, which, initially suited to innocent visitor Tino’s point of view, achingly contrasts with Fabio’s embittered nature. Tonino delli Colli’s color cinematography, dark, dingy and brooding, is a constant wonder to behold.
Tino, who lacks an understanding heart and, the more he learns of the Stolz mysteries, is increasingly complacent, seems headed toward a Fabious “maturity.” He is likeable only because of his youth—a fact that retroactively adds irony to Aunt Sofia’s early expression of gratitude to him for bringing his youthfulness into her home.
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