Baba Yaga (1973)

Director: Corrado Farina

Must say I found this rather a disappointment. Kind of peculiar, and yet at the same time not quite in the way I was perhaps hoping for, based on some of the other reviews I’ve read of it. It’s a horror film, essentially, and yet somehow it doesn’t go out of its way to accentuate the fact that it is a horror film. Director Farina was a big fan of the fumetti of Guido Crepax—the Shameless DVD, which I watched, contains a couple of short documentaries from the same period as this by Farina on the subject of fumetti generally and Crepax particularly—and Baba Yaga adapts one of his “Valentina” books in what I presume is a mostly faithful fashion. Valentina is a photographer; one night she’s walking home from a party and has an encounter with a mysterious woman calling herself Baba Yaga. Besotted by the young woman, and unhappy at being rejected by her, she puts some sort of curse on Valentina’s camera that causes strange things to happen. And then there’s the dream sequences. I gather that by this time the Valentina stories had moved on from their original fairly realistic style to something involving more overt eroticism and surrealism, but there’s just something really… I don’t know, odd about the way Farina brings it all together, the mix of weird dreams and dated political debates and all that. Something oddly flat. Not exactly a giallo, but not exactly a regular horror film either. I found the whole thing kind of unsatisfying and a bit dull.

In the original comics, Valentina’s boyfriend was actually a superhero figure called Neutron, but Farina decided he’d be “unmanageable” in this story, so he imported the character of Arno, a filmmaker, from another Crepax book. Perhaps Neutron was what the film could’ve done with, but then we would probably have been denied the film’s most astounding scene in which Arno shoots a detergent commercial. Initially this scene is baffling as hell cos Farina doesn’t actually reveal what’s going on at first, but the “hero” of the scene, a white man in a white suit who’s vanquished his enemy played by a black man in a black suit with white powder, then turns to the camera and says something about Netto eliminating all grease. I nearly choked at that bit; it’s one of the most genuinely breathtaking bits of cinematic racism I’ve ever seen, and I suppose it did constitute a highlight of sorts… just probably not the sort Farina was aiming for.

Written for the 4th Annual Italian Horror Blogathon at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies

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