I like Corrado Farina’s obscure first film, THEY’VE CHANGED THEIR FACES, even more than his better-known cult second, BABA YAGA, but the latter is still an impressive oddity, attempting to combine sex, kink, fantasy and politics and succeeding as a kind of surreal snapshot of seventies youth, incorporating traces of BLOW UP, gialli, soft porn and youth protest. All this and a camera which kills, and Carroll Baker as a lesbian dominatrix. You can’t complain you’ve been shortchanged.
The source material is Guido Crepax’ perverse comic books devoted to Valentina, a lanky beauty with a bob, inspired by Louise Brooks who was apparently delighted to become a bdsm graphic novel porn star in her sixties. She had previously become a cartoon heroine in the Dixie Dugan strip of the twenties and thirties, which were maybe slightly racey but nothing like this. (In a striking bit of cross-medium pollination, Brooks became Dixie who became Alice White in two feature films inspired by the strip, the recently-rediscovered GIRL and SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD.)
Valentina later became a Berlusconi TV series, worthless like every cultural outpouring of the bunga-bunga sleazemaster, but here she’s Isabelle de Funes, niece of Louis, with bulbous manga-babe eyes and loose, fleshy lips making her something like an elongated Barbara Steele, but minus the fierceness. She’s an impossibly cute, rather sympathetic presence — a great shame this was the last feature for both her and her director.
A lesser shame is that the film can’t quite connect the political musings of the main characters with the elusive plot — a lot less elliptical and dreamlike than the freeform meanderings of the comic, but still pretty fluid and free-floating. But where the various interests of the filmmaker do converge, there are glimpses of a blend of arthouse and grindhouse which could have conceivably given rise to a whole new form of Italian cinema.
Kink-wise, the movie has a real enthusiasm for costume-box dress-up, but uses Crepax’s uniform fetish to evoke fascism and state menace, which hovers in the background throughout, connected to the main plot by obscure, irrational tendrils. It’s often hard to know how to treat perverse fantasies which seem sinister but aren’t really, as they’re only fantasies — in film, an innately fantastical medium, a bondage fantasy has as much reality as anything else, and can seem too “heavy” — I think BELLE DE JOUR gets this right, because it establishes a boundary between the real and unreal, then artfully blurs it.
BABA YAGA contains a whipping scene played like straight horror and more disturbing than erotic, for all the stylised red paint slashes. Maybe Valentina needed more of Barbarella’s “Whatever” approach to sexual situations, which the comic book character, essentially a horny sleepwalker, certainly has.