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A visually fascinating but dramatically flawed Italian production from the seventies.  Freely adapted from John Ford's classic tragedy of the same name, it tells the story of a clergyman's son hopelessly in love with his own sister.  Well worth seeing, even though itís not terribly exciting. 

The Package    
     TIS PITY SHEíS A WHORE (1974) is precisely the sort of fare I go out of my way to track down: a strange, bloody and nearly forgotten curiosity.  Itís also a visual stunner, and no wonder, as the director of photography was Vittorio Storaro.  Storaro is often dubbed cinema's greatest living cinematographer and his eye-popping work here confirms that claim, as just about any shot could be blown up, framed and hung on a church wall.  The art direction is also first rate: the 18th century monastery that provides the film's central setting is gorgeously conceptualized, as is the surrounding countryside.  (Note: interested parties are strongly advised to view the letterboxed UK print from Redemption Video and skip the heavily cut, full-screen abomination released on VHS in the US!)
     There are some heavyweight actors in the cast, headlined by Italian heartthrob Fabio Testi (whoís appeared in everything from THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS to WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO SOLANGE?) and British sex pot Charlotte Rampling (from ZARDOZ, STARDUST MEMORIES, SWIMMING POOL and many others).  During the seventies Rampling graced several Italian dramas, among them Lilliana Cavini's notorious THE NIGHT PORTER.  Rampling's work here is not her best, essentially amounting to standing around and looking pretty...although that she most definitely does. 

The Story 
     Giovanni, a young man training to be a monk, returns from his studies abroad to his family's monastery.  Upon arriving he locks eyes with a beautiful woman, and both are immediately smitten.  Unfortunately it transpires that the woman is Anabella, Giovanniís grown-up sister.  The two try their best to deny their affections for one another, but to no avail.
     Onto the scene comes the dashing Senor Cerranzo, set to marry Anabella.  Despite her protestations the marriage commences, only to end in tragedy when Cerranzo discovers that Anabella is pregnant by her brother.  In a wild, baroque finale that would make Ken Russell proud, Cerranzo brutally murders Giovanni, along with the rest of his family.

The Direction
     Neither an exploitation potboiler nor a stuffy costume drama, TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE is something unique, an oft-gruesome period piece related with admirable focus and economy.  Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (whose other films include the bizarro Elizabeth Taylor vehicle THE DRIVERíS SEAT) directs with a Stanley Kubrick-like precision, creating a deliriously operatic atmosphere reminiscent of early Bernardo Bertolucci films like THE CONFORMIST.  As with Kubrick and Bertolucci, Griffi's core talent is in the visuals, or more specifically the compositions, which are unusual, daring and often downright bizarre. 
     Undeniably impressive though Griffi's helming is, its sheer obssessiveness nearly drains the passion from the film, which is never terribly involving dramatically.  Ambiguity and objectivity are two nonexistent qualities, and for all Giovanni's screaming about the unfairness of his lot ("Just because I'm her brother my joys are forever to be banned from her bed?"), neither he nor Anabella ever emerge as compelling characters.  In the final analysis what we're left with is a series of pretty pictures and little else.

Vital Statistics 

Clesi Cinematographica Productions 

Director: Giuseppe Patroni Griffi
Producer: Silvio Clementelli
Screenplay: Alfio Valdarini, Carlo Carunchio, Giuseppe Patroni Griffi  
(Based on John Ford's tragedy)
Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
Editor: Franco Arcalli
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Oliver Tobias, Fabio Testi, Antonio Falsi, Rick Battaglia, Angela Luce, Rino Imperio

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