Break Like a Butterfly

Duccio Tessari’s BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY is another of his unusual gialli — it stars Helmut Berger and, I guess, fits Shadowplayer Andre Ferreira’s thesis that the director’s characters are more sympathetic than is usual in the genre. Although, I have to say, this breaks down a little here in that most of them are suspects in a nasty series of murders, so I was a little reluctant to extend the warm hand of fellowship to any one of them, lest he be the killer. Oddly, I haven’t always felt that tension in whodunnits, now that I think of it, so Tessari has done something interesting in problematizing the viewer’s relationship to the characters, or something. Of course, in most whodunnits the people are just hinged cardboard so one’s sympathy is a pretty abstract thing at best.

There’s a murder, and an arrest, and the guy they get, a TV sports presenter (hang him I say) finds a mountain of evidence stacked against him. Which should prove he didn’t do it, in this kind of mystery, but we’ve all seen things like TITLE REDACTED where the killer frames himself in order to take advantage of double jeopardy rules later or FURTHER TITLE REDACTED where his wife helps frame him for related reasons, so I still didn’t feel it was safe to feel bad for the guy who is, after all, I repeat, a TV sports presenter.

I did feel for the chief detective, who, in a running gag, can never get a decent cup of coffee.

When the stack of evidence starts to crumble, it does so via short-sighted witnesses and has a TWELVE ANGRY MEN vibe to it.

Helmut has not much to do for the first two-thirds of the film, though there is heavy hinting that he is somewhat psycho, and he behaves oddly around Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, which doesn’t bode well. The frequent use of this music and the way it jolts into jazz make this film far more successful score-wise than my previous Tessari, A DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT.

The ending is pretty clever and wholly logical, which makes it unusual for this genre, too. Admittedly, one might doubt that anyone would actually do what a character is shown to have done. But at least he COULD do it. Like ADOLN, this is about revenge, and it doesn’t make revenge look like an attractive or wise option, which I approve of.

Elsewhere in Italian genre cinema, in the westerns and poliziotteschi, killing the killer is usually all up-side, though not devoid of risk.

5 Responses to “Break Like a Butterfly”

  1. I’ve never really warmed to gialli, even as exercises in style, although I am quite interested in how they connect to a genre I really do like, Krimi. I’d like to think there was some connection beyond mere imitation. It would at least explain why so many gialli seem to be set in London. I can think of one crossover film: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH SOLANGE, which plays like a giallo but co-stars Krimi regular Joachim Fuchsberger.

  2. There are definitely connections: Riccardo Freda made Italian gothics and gialli but also La Doppia Faccia, set in London, from an Edgar Wallace novel, but clearly a giallo. Klaus Kinski stars, an actor seen in many krimi but also every kind of Italian genre pic.

    Unlike gialli, krimi really do try to have likable leads, but they try too hard for my taste, and the whimsical humour usually irks me. Later krimi have colour and sex and violence, and do blur the lines between genres, but they usually remain quirky police procedurals at heart.

  3. Andre Ferreira Says:

    Sorry this comment is so late, but thank you once again for actually checking it out, and thanks for your wonderful writing on it! Spoilers will ensue for anyone who hasn’t seen The Bloodstained Butterfly:

    – Perhaps instead of sympathetic I should have said human, although I do think Tessari avoids the overt misanthropy of most gialli. Even Sbragia, although definitely a lecher who is tearing his family apart with his vices, isn’t coded as completely monstrous or unhinged, which I think makes his killings worse. The kind of “wrong man” twist in the middle may also give us some (admittedly pretty muted) sympathy for him, although that dissipates by the conclusion
    – I think the women come off really good in the movie too, which isn’t something you can always say about giallo. Ida Galli may be a lying schemer, but when you consider her home life and just how bad both her lover and her husband are, could anyone blame her? Similarly for Lorella de Luca-her mistress could easily have been a stereotypical giallo “tart”, but she’s also a rather funny and self-aware person who genuinely doesn’t want someone innocent to go to prison (more on this point later on). Wendy d’Olive’s home life is falling apart, and miraculously for this genre, none of the victims are depicted as deserving it (Tessari also really doesn’t linger on any violence at all.)
    – Conversely, the men (and I think it’s fair to say the men in power) all come off pretty badly. There’s Sbragia and Gunther Stoll who are perverts in cahoots, and it looks like there’s some implications that he’s a little too comfortable with his daughter too. In fact, that whole dinner with the lawyer(?), mother daughter and father gave me real BLUE VELVET/TWIN PEAKS vibes considering everyone was sleeping with someone else-and the movie pointedly doesn’t view it as a good or tittilating thing (also interesting to add that the movie’s only sex scene is actually vitally important to the plot, and is actually important to allow someone’s character to deepen).
    – I really liked Berger in this, especially the last half, where’ he’s allowed to unravel. There’s also all that stuff about his family and those political slogans that really in this context doesn’t come off as politically relevant at all (this is a problem with di Leo’s CALIBER 9 too), but in this movie it does inadvertently make it feel like he has a life and lives in a town outside of the movie-which I felt in ADOLN too.
    – On a formal level, it’s not as psychedelic as baroque as other gialli, but I still think it has a lot of beauty (and some Gordon Willis-ish underlighting too) and I love the deft editing-no dated psychedlic effects, and I think it feels very panoramic and intuitive. Not quite Roeg, but interesting nonetheless
    – Regarding the ending: It makes perfect character sense and is beautifully operatic (Berger’s soul is destroyed, he’s become evil, both die), and I think it avoids your pet peeve about the genre’s arch conservatism (the guy in power who did it actually did it-no fake priests here), BUT it introduces one plot hole: Didn’t he have an iron clad alibi in the form of De Luca’s testimony? I spent some time wandering if she was so guilt ridden about missing his testimony first that she assumed it actually was the day he said it was, or she might have been drunk, or she still loved him…in all honesty, it’s probably jusy typical giallo disgegard for logic, but the fact that I was even thinking of another characters behaviour to justify it says something about what makes Tessari different.

    I’m so sorry for the late reply and for the wall of text, but I hope this contextualizes why I like it so much, and I hope you had a fun time exploring him. Maybe I’m overrating him, but I do think there’s something there. Thanks for the wonderful post!

  4. I guess De Luca maybe lies because she assumes her lover is innocent? I agree that’s not too clear, and without backtracking the movie can’t find a way to explain it. Or maybe they just lost track.

  5. Andre Ferreira Says:

    Yeah, that’s another good explanation. But for a giallo, only one plot hole means its practically airtight, and I think the rest is good enough for it to be overlooked

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