Continuing the international theme of this year’s Noir City, last night we watched a rare single feature, an unlicensed Italian version of The Postman Always Rings Twice appropriately titled OSSESSIONE (Obsession.)
The plot is mostly the same as the familiar novel by James M. Cain, with occasional (strangely homoerotic) deviations. A strapping vagabond happens into a rural Italian cafe run by a beautiful woman and her older husband. He starts a steamy affair with the young wife and, well, you all know where this is going.
I’m not going to worry about spoilers, since I figure mostly everyone who is reading this has already read the book and/or seen the American film versions, but if for some strange reason you haven’t, now would be a good time to do so. I’ll wait.
Right, so what did I think of this Italian take on the classic? Well, it seems more interesting than actually entertaining. I loved how dirty and sweaty everything was, shot exclusively in gritty, real world locations rather than fancy sets. I liked the fact that Giovanna, the wife, was the stronger, more cold-hearted partner, while Gino, the vagabond, was portrayed as more of a patsy driven by helpless love. But my biggest beef with this version, other than the fact that it was WAY too long, was the fact that two of the most crucial moments happen off screen. When Gino and Giovanna hook up for the first time, the director cuts away from the action so early in the seduction that you aren’t even sure they actually did it until he cuts back to them in bed, smoking in the afterglow. Which is odd, but infinitely more forgivable than the fact the the husband’s murder also takes place off screen. Again, we don’t really find out exactly what happened until it we piece it together afterwards from bits of dialog. Which makes no sense and really blunts the impact of that crucial event. Meanwhile we have to endure endless dancing and singing sequences that go on and on and a whole strange, mostly pointless side plot where Gino runs off with another man.
This odd, bisexual plot detour is the biggest difference between this version and the source material. When Gino and Giovanna try to leave together and she gets cold feet, he actually leaves her behind. He has no money, but a friendly (!) fellow traveller generously pays for his train ticket and the two of them end up sharing a bed and working together at a carnival. Until Giovanna shows up and lures Gino back into her murderous clutches. His gentleman friend reappears later on, begging Gino to leave the terrible situation with the now widowed Giovanna (eeew, fish!) and return to the carefree vagabond lifestyle with someone who really understands him. But Gino refuses, because he just can’t break free from his dark, obsessive love.
Clearly the biggest problem with this film, in my not-so-humble opinion, is pacing. It seems that the director was far more interested in accurately documenting the gritty, threadbare lives of working class Italians than telling a tight, well-structured story. To that end, he apparently tormented his actors during the filming. Particularly the glamorous Clara Calamai who he stripped of all make up and hair spray for the sake of raw authenticity. Which is fine, if that’s your passion and focus. In fact, this is the film that spawned the Italian Neorealism movement, and that certainly makes it interesting from a historical perspective.
But the bottom line for me is that I’m a writer. A lowbrow, pulp writer. I like stories. Lean, clever, fast-and-dirty stories that entertain first and ask questions later. So this one didn’t really do it for me. But, as a Film Noir completist, I’m sure glad I saw it.