The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion **** 1970

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The titles of classic 1970’s giallo can be quite abstract, so it’s something of a relief when Luciano Ercoli’s Barcelona-set drama turns out to be about forbidden photos of a lady above suspicion. The lady in question is Minou, played by Dagmar Lassander, who is introduced planning to tell her industrialist husband Peter (Pier Paulo Cappoli) that she’s leaving him for another man; she sees this as a way of keeping him keen. Before she can get this plan into action, she receives a warning that her husband is a murderer, and is guided to a cassette-recording of him ordering the death of a man using the decompression chamber essential to deep-sea divers. But that’s only the first piece of bait in an elaborate blackmail plot; but who is responsible? Does mutual friend and lover Dominique (Nieves Navarro) have anything to do with it? The prolific Ernesto Gastaldi is the screenwriter here, and he weaves a story of unusual restraint for a giallo; violence and murder take a back seat to intrigue and suspense, and a conclusion that’s both surprising and inevitable in Mametian terms. There’s also an air of sexual expression that’s fairly wild; women invite each other over to watch projected slideshows of their latest nude photographs. Incidental pleasures include a nightclub straight out of Austin Powers and a groovy lounge-core score from Ennio Morricone. If some giallos seem a little nasty, Forbidden Photos is a good example of a non-exploitive one; there’s a touch of Breaking The Waves about the way the female protagonist links her own degradation to her husband’s well-being. It’s a stylish, perverse entertainment, and looks great on this fresh transfer, currently streaming on the Arrow channel.

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Pain and Glory 2019 ***

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Sooner or later, the critic Clive James once noted, every artist feels the need to give us something of themselves. Pedro Almodovar’s latest, Pain and Glory, might as well be titled All About Myself; the subject is Salvador Mallo, an aging Spanish film director (Antonio Banderas) who has various health worries, and is wrestling with the creative process; he’s unwilling to work, and seeks escape through smoking heroin with an actor he’d previously fallen out with. While under the chemical cosh, Mallo falls into a reverie about his early life, recognising what a gifted individual he was, recounting his first attraction to men, and fondly remembering how much his mother (Penelope Cruz) did for him when they were reduced by poverty to living in a cave with whitewashed walls. It’s hardly a surprise that Almodovar should lapse into such navel-gazing and ‘I remember mama’ sentiment, but it’s hardly cause for celebration; the creativity that drove Volver, Live Flesh or The Skin I Live In is absent here, and there’s a lot of self-pity. Of course, Almodovar has a few games to play ‘You would never let me make a film about you’ Mallo tells his mother, yet the audience already know that motherhood is as much a staple of the director’s work as colourful kitchens and eye-popping decor. Still, Cruz is always something to beyond under the great man’s direction, and Banderas is excellent, wincing with pain as he surveys a life suddenly emptying of character and good times. Pain & Glory is one of these ‘artistic summation; the wonder of me’ films so beloved by Fellini and Cocteau; essential for fans, but perhaps a little dry and self-absorbed for the general public.

Timecrimes 2007 ***

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With a Hollywood remake in the works, it’s worth appreciating writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s smart Spanish sci-fi thriller in its original state. Hector (Karra Elejalde) is sitting on the balcony when he spies a naked girl through his binoculars. Investigating, he comes across a masked figure, and then upon an eccentric neighbour who is perfecting his time-travel machine. Hector’s intervention sets time out of joint, and with several different versions of himself running around, he ends up having to travel back in time to set things right. In the vein of Looper or Triangle, Timecrimes works out the paradoxes of the deceptively simple storyline with ease, keeping audiences guessing till the end.