NON SI SEVIZIA UN PAPERINO
Alternate Titles: FANATISMO; DONT TORTURE THE DUCKLING.
Pro Co: Medusa Cinematografica.
Dir: Lucio Fulci;
Pros: Felice Calaiacono, Franco Puccioni;
Wrs: Lucio Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, Gianfranco Clerici; st: Lucio Fulci, Robert Gianviti;
Exec Pro: Renato Laboni.
Phot: Sergio DOfizi;
Film Ed: Ornella Micheli;
Mus: Riz Ortolani;
Art Dir: Pierluigi Basile.
SFX: Gianetto De Rossi.
Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Babara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Irene Papas, Marc Porel, George Wilson, Vito Passeri, Aldo Campodifiori, Ugo DAlessio, Virginio Gazzolo.
Although he had been working steadily as a director in the Italian film industry since the end of the 1950s, Lucio Fulci did not really attract international attention until the late 1970s with a series of gory gothic horror movies that began with the living dead epic Zombi 2 (79), intended as a rip-off of George A. Romeros hit Dawn of the Dead (78), known as Zombie in most European markets but proving to be highly regarded in its own right. Over the next three years Fulci followed these up with similarly graphic productions like LAldila. Quella Villa Accanto al Cimitero (both 81) and Manhattan Baby (82). These films were often championed by genre-specific publications like Midi-Minuit, Fangoria and Starburst, as well as the then burgeoning small press market, thus helping establish the filmmaker one of the most instantly recognisable names created in the age of the home video market.
The downside of all this attention was that interest
in Fulcis career tended to concentrate, with a few exceptions, on half
a dozen movies over a three year period, thus neglecting a large portion of
his overall career. This has meant that a number of potentially interesting
works from the director have been overlooked, particularly early forays into
westerns, horror and gialli, such as this 1972 production.
A massive new motorway passes through a remote valley
in Southern Italy, bypassing a small village. On a hillside next to the road,
a woman is seen furtively digging at the ground. Soon, it becomes apparent that
she is exhuming a small skeleton, probably an infant. In another part of the
valley, on the motorway itself, a small boy hits a lizard with his slingshot,
just before a car pulls into view containing two women. This seems to excite
the boy and he makes off in pursuit of the vehicle. Meanwhile, his two friends
are praying in the village church, but manage to sneak out and meet up with
the other boy who tells them that two prostitutes have come to town and that
they have enough money to pay for their services. The two women meet up with
two local farmhands and make for a barn. They are accosted by Giuseppe, the
local simpleton, who wants to watch them perform but is driven away. As he attempts
to spy on the women and their customers, he is taunted by the three boys. He
chases after them, threatening to kill them. Later someone is seen preparing
wax dolls as part of an occult ritual. The dolls have needles driven into them
and are shown to represent the three boys. One of the boys goes to work with
his mother who is acting as a housekeeper for a female visitor to the village.
He is ordered to take some orangeade to the woman. On reaching her bedroom the
boy discovers her lying naked on a sunbed. She teases him about his lack of
sexual experience and offers to provide him with some just as his mother calls
him back downstairs. That night one of his friends is chased through woodland
by an unseen figure who eventually catches up with him and attacks him just
yards from his house. After four days of extensive searching in the area around
the village, the police are no nearer finding the child. A reporter from a national
newspaper phones in his report about the case and tells his editor that the
father has received a ransom demand for this sons return and that he will
investigate further. Unable to break through the police cordon, the reporter
manages to gatecrash a meeting between the prosecutor and the family just as
details of the ransom demand are discussed. The journalist notes a major flaw
in the kidnappers demands just as he is escorted out of the house. Later
that night the father takes the ransom money to the site agreed to with the
extortionist, an abandoned warehouse and places it in a disused furnace. Shortly
after, the money is retrieved. Then the man who retrieved is cornered and arrested
by the police, it turns out to be the village simpleton. Under interrogation
the man denies all knowledge of the fate of the boy, but a telephone call to
the father reveals his voice is the same as that claiming to be the kidnapper.
Eventually the police locate the boys body and the simpleton changes his
story to where he claims that he merely found the child, already dead, and buried
him. The local priest turns up with the children from his soccer team to pray
at the site of their friends body. Meanwhile the woman seen unearthing
the child at the hillside is lurking in the distance with a discrete smile on
her face. Although the simpleton has confessed to the police, the prosecutor
on the case is convinced that it is so full of holes that the man could not
have committed the murder and the real killer is still at large. Some time later
in the village, a washer-woman discovers the corpse of another child
For those familiar only with Lucio Fulcis work in the latter part of his career, from the late 1970s onwards, may find Non si Sevizia un Paperino something of a revelation.
The films from that later period were mainly notable for supernatural events taking place in highly stylised, almost surreal settings that exist on the border between two dimensions or realities. The village where this film takes place can also be seen as existing on a borderline, but on this occasion it is a physical and social border between two very different worlds that has never really been breached to any degree.
One world is represented by the appearance of a monolithic four-lane motorway that rises up from the valley in which the village is located. This serves to symbolise the economic revival that much of Italy experienced during the period after following post-WW2 reconstruction, with its resultant conspicuous consumption represented by the many motor cars which travel across it, packed with apparently prosperous families.
Another world, which harks back to a much earlier age, is represented by the village itself. It is significant that the motorway rises far above the village since contact with the contemporary world is somewhat restricted. Access to the place is by treacherously steep and narrow side roads that detour off the main road deep into the valley below.
Here the economic and social changes taking place in the rest of the country have largely bypassed the community. While there is access to television, the choice of newspapers and magazines is limited due to an arrangement between the vendor and the local priest. The villagers themselves are affected by varying degrees of poverty, lack of modern conveniences (the public water supply is switched at night) and subject to extremes in climate, ranging from near drought to ferocious thunderstorms, sometimes in the same day. Since there is no direct route to the motorway and it has in effect bypassed them completely, all that it represents of a modern nation is irrelevant to the people of the village.
Because of this isolation the villagers have developed their own set of moral and social values, along with spiritual beliefs and superstitions to govern their lives. Much of this has been exploited and developed for its own ends by the established church in the district, which remains the main source of authoritative power.
The power of the church is seen extending to influence much of what would normally be seen as its direct opposite, witchcraft, as represented by the occultist Old Francesco (George Wilson, CEra una Volta 67), who possesses all the paraphernalia associated with sorcery but claims in fact that many of his actions are guided by visitations from Christian saints. Early on, one of the local police remarks on how the church and witchcraft are dependent on each other as a means of social control.
The type of rural location featured in Non si Sevizia un Paperino, rural Southern Italy, was the preferred setting amongst the neo-realist movement in Italian cinema of the post-war years and their successors such as Franceso Rossi, Vittorio De Sica and Ettore Scola. Another name that will spring to mind when watching Lucio Fulcis film is Frederico Fellini, whose use of typeage, is echoed in the choice of local performers to represent the residents of the village due to their grizzled, weather-beaten visages. While these directors productions from the 1950s and 1960s were seen as fresh and original in their time, Fulcis use of them in a commercial enterprise proves that in their representation of characters from this region had become cliché.
The influence of neo-realism can also be detected in the cinematography of Sergio DOfizi (Cannibal Holocaust 78). Whereas the movies from Fulcis best-known period generally relied on special lighting techniques and the use of filters along with extremes of shadow and light to create the proper atmosphere for their fantastic events to take place, here a much more naturalistic style is employed, taking advantage of the unique appearance of the village, with its stark, whitewashed building and the desolate surrounding countryside, lending the film at times an almost documentary feel. Particularly successful is the contrast between the harsh surroundings in which the villagers live and the smooth, almost featureless aspect of the motorway in their midst.
Further references to this style of filmmaking can be found in the use of hand-held cameras in certain sequences such as the lynch mob descending on the police station and the seemingly at least partially improvised interaction between the children.
While neo-realism seems to have had a strong bearing on the way the makers have presented their story, another cinematic style that they had in mind when making Non si Sevizia un Paperino was the French nouvelle-vague, represented by the work of such directors as Jean-Luc Goddard (Weekend 67) and Francois Truffaut (Fahrenheit 451 66), which had an effect on a lot of filmmakers, not just in Europe, throughout the 1960s and beyond.
Although displaying many of the naturalistic tendencies shown in neo-realism, the practitioners of the nouvelle-vague style of production introduced striking use of camerawork and editing, sometimes adapting material from mainstream Hollywood productions, to give inject narrative and visual dynamism into their work, made even more effective by the vibrant use of locations.
Although the village in Lucio Fulcis film is presented in a realistic manner, its isolation from the rest of the country and the accompanying sense of being trapped within a form of time warp combine to create a strange, rarefied atmosphere in which magic, or rather what is taken to be evidence of it, is accepted as fact. Within this environment, and with no overt contradiction from authority figures such as the priest or police, the villagers believe that events can be manipulated and made sense of through ritual.
As mentioned earlier, there is a strong correlation between the activities of the church and the occultists. Both make their fortunes from exploiting the beliefs of local people, seeking to impress them with the use of elaborate rituals, the performance of the mass by the church while witchcraft makes use of props such as waxen dolls and other props. They also many of the same symbols notably a skeletal figure representing death and play on peoples fears. While the church is seen as a protector from dark forces, the nervousness shown by the youngsters attending church services suggests that it merely replaces one form of spiritual terror with another.
Unlike most of his other genre-related output, where supernatural forces are very prevalent, and are often the impetus behind the movies plot, Lucio Fulci goes out of his way to underline the redundancy of these forces in relation to the events in Non si Sevizia un Paperino. This is illustrated by the realisation by the character played by Florinda Bolkan that the magic spells that she has let guide most of her life, and which she was using to destroy the three boys who desecrated her dead babys grave, has in fact proved totally impotent. The children were not in fact killed by demons she summoned but by an individual.
Ultimately any evil perpetrated in the film is the result of bigotry, fear and madness, very much human traits.
Fulcis attitude toward the supernatural as regards this particular production is best summed up by the priests assertion to one of the boys under his care that magic and miracles do not exist. Another aware character, the female visitor to the village (Barbara Bouchet, La Tarantole dal Ventre Nero 71) merely uses the occult as a diversion from her usual drug of choice, cannabis.
If the choice of location and eschewing of fantastic material, combine to mark this film out from what is considered the norm in a Fulci enterprise, there are additional features which make it even more unique.
There is a convention in the Italian horror and gialli cinema (not just Fulcis) that murder victims are typically nubile, sexy females, often punished for being just that in a genres often accused of being puritanical and misogynistic. Here, in a twist which some may find even more disturbing, the victims are preteen males. While the sexual motive prevalent in movies of this type has been removed, a variation on the puritanical and moral rationale remains in that the killers actions are governed by an insanely idealised vision of childhood innocence.
Fulci is a director with a reputation for frequent and graphic use of violence and bloodshed throughout his career. In the case of this work, however, much of the violence takes place off-screen, with only two overtly gory sequences, both featuring adults rather than children. One occurs at the end of the movie and has the killer fall to his death off a cliff, his head and face smashing against outlying rocks on the way to the ground. Although the effects by Gianetto De Rossi (Holocaust 2000 77) are somewhat crude, they still prove rather startling. The other on-screen death is a particularly harrowing sequence involving Florinda Bolkan.
Here Bolkan has been released from police custody after it is discovered that she could not possibly have been responsible for the series of child murders. However, the authorities have singularly failed to convince the frightened and angry villagers of her innocence and they are set to take an awful revenge on the woman with a reputation as a witch and an outsider.
The killing of Bolkans character has echoes in two later Lucio Fulci works, LAldila (81) and Paura nella Citta dei Morti Viventi (80). In the latter an outcast from a community (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) is suspected of involvement in the death of a local girl and her father takes a gruesome revenge on the character, even though it is obvious that the simple-minded character has not committed any crime, while in the former the method used to assassinate a warlock (Antoine Saint-John) echoes that for the assault on Bolkan with steel chains and iron bars.
Bolkans beating and subsequent demise prove to be far more disturbing than either of the ones mentioned previously since, unlike those instances, there is no sense of reassuring detachment for the audience, as this event takes place in a naturalistic environment and is handled in a realistic manner. The brutality of the act is emphasised the way casual way in which the violence is meted out by the four assailants,
During the attack on Bolkan, Fulci creatively employs two diverse pieces of music, playing from car radios and used to cover the victims screams. The first is an upbeat pop song that the director appears to be using as an ironic counterpoint to the brutal events being portrayed. The mood changes dramatically with the second, as Bolkan first collapses from the effects of her wounds before managing to struggle her way toward the motorway and help. This is a slow mournful ballad that effectively evokes the plight of the character and could easily have descended into campness. Fortunately Fulcis direction and especially the actresss efforts ensure that the sequence emerges as powerfully moving.
It is in fact Brazilian-born Florinda Bolkan (Flavia La Monaca Musulmana 74) who turns in the most outstanding performance in Non si Sevizia un Paperino. Using her extraordinary dark eyes and body movement, Bolkan effortlessly conveys the feral nature of her character such as when she is seen exhuming the skeleton from its grave, being chased through a forest by the police and her subsequent capture and interrogation along with her confrontation with the children.
Fulci employs more irony when her magic spell intended to break the boys, in fact proves useless and she experiences a conceptual breakthrough leading to a seizure, which ultimately breaks her. Although the villagers who later attack her, destroy her physical self, she is already spiritually dead since her powers have deserted her or, it has dawned on her, they never really existed in the first place. When she leaves the police station in the morning after her interrogation she looks almost childlike in her vulnerability as she makes her way warily through the hostile village, a sharp contrast with the powerful being she was before.
The rest of the cast are generally very good notably Bouchet as the sexually alluring and ambiguous interloper, who the priest believes to have a bearing on recent events in the village. Some of the other actors are playing against type by appearing outside of the genres that they are most associated with. These include Marc Porel as the priest, who is best known for his roles in crime thrillers like Duccio Tessaris Tony Arzenta (73) and Ruggero Deodatas Uomini si Nasce Poliziotti si Muore (76) while Cuban performer Tomas Milian playing the journalist, established himself in spaghetti westerns from the 1960s onwards with titles like Sergio Sollimas La Resa dei Conti (66) and Sergio Corbuccis Companeros (70) before moving into police action flicks in the 1970s, typified by Bruno Corbuccis Squadra Antiscippo (76).
As mentioned earlier in this review, some of the material and themes contained in this work turned up in subsequent Fulci productions in a revised form, notably an important plot device involving the Disney character Donald Duck (which translates as Paperino in colloquial Italian) along with a very distorted view of childhood innocence and perfection reworked for the very sleazy slasher epic Lo Squartatore di New York (82). Also appearing are references to earlier ventures from the director such as Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna (71).
A recurring theme in the Fulci canon is his difficult relationship with the Catholic church generally, and priests in particular, as evidenced by his highly regarded period piece Beatrice Cenci (69) along with the later Paura nella Citta dei Morti Viventi. Here a priest also proves to be the villain of the piece.
Given how obviously the writers go out of their way to draw attention away from the clergymans involvement in the child murders until the final act, while putting forward all the other main characters as more likely suspects, it may have proved obvious to more aware viewers that he was the killer. There is, of course, also the tradition in the British and American whodunit novels that inspired the cinematic gialli that the least likely suspect was almost always the culprit, again leading to the priest, a figure above reproach in his community. An example of how the community views their authority figure is that, under normal circumstances, the mans obviously disturbed mother (Irene Papas, Un Posto Ideale per Uccidere 71) and her handicapped daughter, would have been at least socially ostracised and more likely driven from the community. Instead they are allowed to remain, unfettered due to their relationship to the priest.
Despite the influences from other styles of filmmaking covered earlier in the review suggesting the contrary, Non Si Sevizia un Paperino, is still primarily a giallo in terms of plot and pacing.
Screenwriters Fulci, Robert Gianviti (Una Sullaltra 69) and Gianfranco Clerici (5 Donne per LAssassino 74) do their best to confound the viewer with tortuous plot twists and a veritable shoal or red herring characters paraded as suspects. A number of these are very obvious such as the local simpleton (Vito Passeri) and the sinister mother of the priest. Especially obvious is the use of Barbara Bouchet whose presence is so loaded with coincidence, contradiction and general mystery, that if she did in fact prove to be the murderer the revelation would rank as a major anti-climax. So many characters are presented as possible culprits that some viewers may get the impression that when the priest is finally revealed to be the villain of the piece, it may have less to do with the directors obsession with the clergy and more to do with the fact that he is the only choice left for the makers to allow them to complete the movie.
Regarding the plotting, one of the problems the production faces is its fragmentary nature, leaping from one character and situation to another with no central character around which to anchor it. An ideal choice for this would have been Tomas Millians journalist (along with medics, a favourite profession in the films of Lucio Fulci), who would have helped draw the audience more easily into the complex plot and given them someone to identify with. This lack of empathetic character may be a contributory factor in why this film has fewer supporters than some other works from this period.
If the plotting displays some shortcoming, it is largely made up for by Lucio Fulcis direction. Much of the film is revealed to be a visual tour-de-force, featuring dynamic camerawork and editing (Ornella Micheli, Dracula in Brianza 75). Among the most impressive sequences are a very atmospheric journey through a storm-lashed forest by one of the boys and especially Florida Bolkan being chased and finally cornered by the police in a woodland clearing. Bolkans sense of panic is well conveyed by the use of jump cuts between extreme close-ups of her eyes and rapid camera movements (at one completely encircling her character) along with distorted POV shots.
The use of POV shots in the film is stylistically important since it conveys the world view of characters, showing either wide-eyed fear of the situation they are in or a distorted view of their environment or other people. This is particularly well used during the interrogation sequences carried out at the police station involving Bolkan that also benefits from inventive use of hand-held camerawork.
The interrogation sequences serve to illustrate how Fulci and lighting cameraman Sergio DOffizi exploit a limited pace using very tight compositions and constantly roving (sometimes tilting) cameras to underline the tension in the room and the isolation of the suspected person.
Narrative-wise the picture moves at a cracking pace, with its fragmented nature being used to good effect thanks to rapid editing and bold use of sudden flashbacks to suggest more incident than was actually the case. In any event the way these flashbacks are inserted eventually become quite delirious, adding another layer of enjoyment to the proceedings for discerning viewers.
Non si Sevizia un Paperino quickly disappeared from cinemas in Italy after its initial release. Reportedly this was due to the efforts of a politico from the region where the production was set who thought he recognised a character in the movie as being based on him. The work resurfaced intermittently during the 1980s on a number of European labels but it is only through the release of an American DVD release that Lucio Fulcis film has began to be reassessed.
©Iain McLachlan 2003