22 January 2012

DVD Review: FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (4 mosche di velluto grigio)

Four Flies on Grey Velvet is worth watching, but not necessarily because it’s any good. In fact, Flies manages, with amazing consistency, to mishandle all a film’s usual core components. Plot, character, acting and visuals are all deeply flawed. By all rights, I should have hated the film. But I didn’t, for a purely personal reason: I love it when films get weird and Flies is, from time to time, brilliantly weird.

Four Flies is a murder mystery in the Italian giallo tradition, essentially Hitchcock-style thrillers, only with an atypical visual aesthetic. Like Vertigo, only even stranger. The lead character of Four Flies is Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon), a musician. After seemingly being stalked for days by a mysterious suited man (Calisto Calisti), Roberto finally manages to confront him in an abandoned theatre, only to end up accidentally killing him. What’s worse, a mysterious masked figure photographs his actions, and then embarks on a campaign to psychologically torture Roberto. The film follows Roberto as he tries to discover who his tormenter is, and find out why he has been targeted.

This plot is not executed brilliantly. Admittedly, I was surprised by ending, which implies that something at least was done right. But at least one major discovery came completely out of the blue, and the pacing is off, with much of the build-up feeling like the film dragging its feet. The visuals too are occasionally mismanaged. Sometimes the intense stylisation works, but mostly it’s just alienating. Killings are supposed to feel visceral and real, but it’s difficult to feel that way when most of the scenes are shot in a fashion that completely distanced me from the action.

But the worst of Four Flies’ flaws is that it never tries to get us to sympathise with the main character. This is highlighted following Roberto’s killing of the mystery man. In the aftermath, he seems to feel no remorse for the murder, only fear about what the witness might do. It’s difficult to like a character like that, and later actions only alienate him further. To put it plainly, I did not care about Roberto at all, which is a massive problem, because the film’s suspense relies on the audience empathising with his psychological torment.

To make things worse, Brandon, the actor playing Roberto is utterly lifeless. Mimsy Farmer (who plays Roberto’s wife Nina) is little better, delivering dialogue with a grating flatness. It’s a crying shame these two get the most screen-time. However, all is not lost, because while most of the acting and characters are terrible, there are three wonderful exceptions.

Roberto after all is not without friends, and it is his allies that rescue this film. Two of them are tramps. The Professor (Oreste Lionello), named for his great store of memorised Bible quotes, is great fun in a light-hearted, quirky role. Also nicely quirky, though this time in a much gruffer fashion, is Bud Spencer as Godfrey, nicknamed God (though he finds this annoyingly informal, preferring to be referred to as God Almighty). And, topping it all off, is Jean-Pierre Marielle as Private Eye Gianni Arrosio, who delivers a performance so flamboyantly, stereotypically gay, that it only escapes being offensive by how utterly ludicrous it is.

This trio of weird and wonderful characters are the highlights of the film, injecting it with the energy the painfully dull Brandon cannot. Throw in a few very strange set pieces, including, for example, a forensic examination that involves shooting a laser through an eyeball in a jar, and Four Flies proves itself to have wonderfully askew sensibilities. It’s a pity these cannot be backed up by flawless plotting or good acting, but their simple presence made a film that would have otherwise been unbearable, occasional light fun. So, in the end, I would recommend Four Flies: not for your general audience maybe, but definitely for my fellow fans of the strange.

Movie Rating: 3/5

Reviewer: Adam Brodie
Release Date: 18 January 2011 (Out Now)
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle

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