Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Truth According to Satan (1972)

To call Renato Polselli’s The Truth According to Satan a.k.a. La verità secondo satana a movie about a woman being framed and blackmailed for her lover’s murder just doesn’t really capture what it’s all about. Anyone familiar with Polselli’s work will know that there’s usually a lot more to it than that, with the story being more like groundwork for filmmaking experimentation and expressionism, not to mention some truly disorienting editing. One could say the satanic title is misleading, but taking a lot of the, what I’m assuming to be, elaborate metaphors, it’s possible to make an attempt to figure in a correlation between the title and the film’s events. It’s like a type of art that one could draw numerous interpretations from and yet still be quite off. 

A woman, Diana (Rita Calderoni, whose beautiful eyes still shine through in the fuzzy looking, low quality version I watched), seems to be at the core of a man’s, Roibert’s (Isarco Ravaioli), depressions. Sick of himself and going through what is no doubt an existential crises, he deeply contemplates and, in a melodramatic bout of playing Russian roulette with himself, fails at committing suicide, an insult which only seems to further his unease.

Calling up the lady of his sorrows, Diana, in the midst of a love affair with her female companion/slave, Yanita (Marie-Paule Bastin), Roibert informs her of his failed attempt at killing himself, threatening to try again. She hastily comes over to his place, looking nice and sexy, and Roibert eventually does stab and kill himself while leaning over her, smearing his blood over her. The neighbor, a strange jester of a man, Totoletto (Sergio Ammirata, chewing the scenery like none have ever done before), seems to have witnessed enough of the incident from the window to decide to have a fun time with the situation, turning the film into a deranged comedy from here on out.

Totoletto is a total clown, with a hefty amount of black humor that hits the spot at times. Unfortunately, his chicken sounds are a little too frequent and a little irritating. Though, it's still not enough to ruin the added dose of weird entertainment he brings to this already far-out, head trip of a, dare I say it, giallo.

The train of ideas that make up the story, of which Totoletto becomes in total control of, is frequently diverted by his highly eccentric diet of consuming two eggs every hour. His commitment to this diet is borderline insane, exclaiming it to be “a catastropheeee!!!!” to miss out on his egg break. To give you an idea of what kind of humor is taking place, when Diana attempts to turn the tables, threatening to frame Totoletto for the killing and kidnapping her, he freaks out, screams, and runs to the next room, worried about his eggs overcooking. I’m giggling just writing this; I love that guy!

As evidenced here and in some other works with Polselli, The Reincarnation of Isabel and Delirium, Calderoni has a talent for communicating a mental breakdown in front of the camera. The way she does it is excessive, which I like, and all the while the emotion seems genuine. 

In addition, I’m a bit drawn to a peculiar yet subtle recurring motif to the, obligatory to the sexploitation, tortures that Diana is put through, where a transition, going from discomfort to pleasure, is depicted in Calderoni’s expressions. Segments including her mad boyfriend teasing her with the sharp tip of a blade over her body, or her being tied down while a dog eats raw meat off her body, or being sprayed over with a showerhead after being covered in blood, all end up with, somewhere in there, the actress going from a panic, or extreme distress, to what for sure appears to be approval and pleasure.

Giving a deep backstory to Diana and Roibert, dream-like flashbacks are used to suggest the emotions felt during their meeting for the first time and their time spent together. It's a love of very beautiful origins, giving a bittersweet reminder of the love’s gloomy end.

Battle stock footage is used to odd, disorienting effect, edited in to depict Roibert’s psych and the extent of the conflicting nature of his obsession with Diana, a woman who takes control of her relationships, including her female lover, Yanita, of whom she orders and whips like a slave. The two main male characters obsessively endeavor to turn this role of control around, taking pleasure in leading the game she usually takes charge of. In one instance, Totoletto has Yanita whip Diana instead, reversing the roles of master and slave. Diana seems to seduce Yanita back to her side with a soft kiss to the leg, much to Totoletto’s hilarious dismay.

After trying to make up its mind as to whether or not Diana’s plight is something supernatural, her going mad, or the result of someone keen on her torture, the movie finally wraps things up with a twist that isn’t really all that twisty. It even seems like Polselli thought it best to interrupt the climax a few times by cutting to a fabulous shot of dancing, naked hippies, with Yanita included, of which I always have a hard time resisting dancing to. I thought this might have been edited in from a different movie, like some kind of patchwork, but Totoletto’s interaction with these transcendental partiers at the end confirms that it is meant for this movie, and I’m glad for that.

Given all that I’ve discussed, I still can’t help saying that the only way to know what this movie is about is to see it. It starts out like a tame little suicide drama and eventually escalates into a party of the grandest, mind expanding, erratic surrealism. It’s what I was looking for with a Polselli film, yet it still ended up not being what I was expecting. And the scenes with the dancers are so damn brilliant! That’s what I want to see more of.


  1. I really do think that the 70s was the apex of the art of cinema.

    1. I do think you're right. I thought Lords of Salem was a pretty cool artsy horror comeback, but let's face it, the cinema art of the '70s could never be replicated today.

    2. I'm almost certain those are the only (mildly) positive words about Lords Of Salem I've seen anywhere on the internet. lol

    3. Oh yeah, totally loved it. I also think Kiss of the Damned is another good modern one.

  2. This movie is made of pure WTF but despite all the freaky stuff that happens, you can tell that both the actors and the characters are having a blast. My favourite scene would have to be that part where Diana tries to turn the tables, you just can't help but smile! The flashbacks were very nicely done, the sunset memory was breathtaking. Still, those dancers! I was actually screaming at my computer "WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!" every time they showed up!

    I enjoyed this a bit more than "The Reincarnation of Isabel" because while the latter is delicious eye-candy, I can only watch it at 2x speed. I DO love its Italian title though... "Rites, Black Magic and Secret Orgies in the 14th Century" what more can you want from a title like that?

    1. This was a little better than Reincarnation, probably because the set pieces really drag out in that, and so that was probably best viewed at "2x speed," like you say.

      I wish I could draw up some sort of slick metaphor for the characters and how the dancers coincide with the movie, but alas it seems to allude me at this point. I'm sure one exists. Or it might be that Polselli thought we'd enjoy watching naked dancers and funky, poppy '70s music, just because.

      I've got to thank you for letting me know about the English sub version of this movie on YouTube. It didn't really stick the first time I watched it in Italian without subs for some reason, but I definitely got that bout of enthusiasm watching it again after the credits rolled that finally made me deem it worthy for the blog.