Salvare la Faccia (1969)

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She looked like an angel . . . an angel of death!
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vt Psychout for Murder
Italy, Argentina / 88 minutes / color / Chiara, Banco, Glori Dir & Story: Edward Ross (i.e., Rossano Brazzi) Pr & Idea: Oscar Brazzi Scr: Biagio Proietti, Diana Crispo Cine: Luciano Trasatti Cast: Adrienne La Russa, Nino Castelnuovo, Alberto de Mendoza, Idelma Carlo, Renzo Petretto, Nestor Garay, Rossano Brazzi, Paola Pitagora, Marcello Bonini Olas, Nerio Bernardi.

Salvare la Faccia - 0 opener

The literal meaning of this movie’s title is “To Save Face” rather than the more sensationalistic US release title Psychout for Murder, and it actually gives a far better idea of a movie that’s less a giallo (almost no nudity, no gore to speak of, plot makes sense) than a psychological thriller cum social satire.

Angel-faced Licia (La Russa) is persuaded by her seedy art-photographer boyfriend Mario (Castelnuovo) to have sex with him in a bordello, just to spice things up a bit. In fact it’s a setup: the police raid the joint and Mario gets photos he can use to blackmail 20 million lira out of Licia’s father, industrialist Marco Brignoli (Brazzi).

Salvare la Faccia - 1 Mario & Licia caught escaping the bordello

Mario (Nino Castelnuovo) and Licia (Adrienne La Russa) caught by press photographers as they flee the bordello . . . or is it a setup?

Salvare la Faccia - 2 Licia realizes Mario's treachery

Licia (Adrienne La Russa) soon realizes Mario’s treachery.

Desperate to avoid the glare of publicity in case it casts its light also on some of Brignoli’s corrupt business deals involving a stuffed-shirt local politician (Garay), Brignoli decides the best thing is to claim that Licia has had a breakdown; this has the advantage that she can be merrily shunted into a mental institution for a couple of years until everyone’s forgotten the incident.

Salvare la Faccia - 3 Dad is desperate to hush it all up

Licia’s plutocrat dad (Rossano Brazzi) is desperate to hush it all up.

Licia’s cheroot-smoking sister Giovanna (Pitagora), who likewise lives off Daddy, puts up token resistance, but her studly ex-playboy husband Francesco (de Mendoza), his eyes on Brignoli’s business empire, sides with the older man. Licia innocently flees to Mario, and it’s at this point that she discovers his treachery.

Betrayed by all of those she thought loved her, Licia goes off to spent a couple of years among the nuns of the mental home. On her return home, an event that seems barely to register on the rest of the family, it seems at first as if her time in the clinic may have created the insanity in her that the family pretended was there. She plays destructive little games, like scattering and tearing the papers in her father’s office and rigging up scary fake scenarios.

She hitches a lift from her father into town and asks around until she finds out where ex-boyfriend Mario is now living. Since she’s brought with her a revolver purloined from her father’s office, Mario’s naturally a bit apprehensive when he comes home to his hip pad to find her waiting for him. She tells him not to worry, though: she needs his collaboration in a scheme of hers, and adds that he doesn’t have much choice but to go along—after all, she’s been certified insane, which means she could kill him with relative impunity any time she wanted to.

Her father has a chalet where he goes for secret assignations with his mistress, Laura (Carlo), the wife of the fathead politician we met earlier. With Mario’s aid, Licia bugs the chalet and records the lovers discussing the dirty deals they’re planning, their efforts to buy Laura’s husband into a high government position so that even bigger deals can be pulled off, and so forth. Interestingly, as the movie unfolds we realize more and more that it’s not Brignoli who’s pulling the backroom strings but Laura. She has essentially created both Brignoli and her husband as the men of eminence and power they have become.

Salvare la Faccia - 7 Laura impresses on Brignoli that she's the boss

Laura (Idelma Carlo) impresses on Brignoli (Rossano Brazzi) that she’s the boss.

The next stunt that Licia pulls off with Mario’s help involves an ethics-free Monsignor (Olas) who went along with Licia’s committal to the asylum and represents the Roman Catholic Church’s sly connivance with big business in Italy. In order to keep the Church on-side, Brignoli must do various public acts of piety, such as lead his workers on pilgrimages to Lourdes. He’s had a home movie made of the latest such pilgrimage and the family settle down with the Monsignor to watch it—little knowing that Mario, with his photographic skills, has cleverly interpolated into it a bit of hot action between Brignoli and Laura filmed at the chalet.

Salvare la Faccia - 10 The doctored movie

The movie within the movie.

Salvare la Faccia - 8 Laura's numbskull husband

Laura’s numbskull husband (Nestor Garay).

Salvare la Faccia - 9 The corrupt monsignore

The corrupt monsignore (Marcello Bonini Olas).

This time Mario tells Brignoli that the price of keeping all the copies of the film out of public view is the hand in marriage of his daughter Licia. Brignoli’s none too delighted at the prospect of welcoming a habitual blackmailer into the family; however, saving face and protecting his business is more important than the welfare of his daughter—besides, she seems quite to like the idea.

Together she and Mario extract from Brignoli’s faithful factotum, Paterlini (Petretto), the secrets of an upcoming megadeal, and they use that information to expose the sleazy wheelerdealing that has been going on. Brignoli’s empire—or, rather, Laura’s—is in danger of crumbling.

Salvare la Faccia - 4a Giovanna begins to realize marriage is empty & Francesco's eye straying

Giovanna (Paola Pitagora) begins to realize that her marriage is empty and that Francesco’s eye is straying . . .

Salvare la Faccia - 4b Licia starts the slow process of seducing Francesco

. . . and meanwhile Licia (Adrienne La Russa) starts the slow process of seducing Francesco.

Licia has other irons in the fire, notably a long, slow, sadistic seduction of Francesco—a seduction that’s intended to punish her sister Giovanna and, through its final lack of consummation, punish Francesco too. She also has to arrange Mario’s death in circumstances that guarantee there’ll be plenty of evidence to indicate her father was the killer, should she ever need to use it . . .

Salvare la Faccia - 6 Francesco catches glimpse of naked Licia in rigged mirror

Francesco (Alberto de Mendoza) catches a glimpse of Licia, naked, in a mirror she’s rigged to make sure exactly this happens.

Who will emerge the victor of the war between father and daughter? Can she strip away from Brignoli’s life everything he values save the one thing he values most of all, the preservation of outward appearances?

Salvare la Faccia - 5a

Salvare la Faccia - 5b Licia confronts Mario

Licia (Adrienne La Russa) finally confronts Mario.

Oddly, while Licia’s pranks persecute the others, they have the effect, at least temporarily, of liberating Giovanna, who finally realizes what a gold-digging cad her playboy husband Francesco is and, as for her beloved daddy, “I shouldn’t have done many other things. I shouldn’t have lived here nor lived this useless life. But, most of all, I shouldn’t have had a father like you!” Having said that, she turns to Licia. “What’s your game? Don’t you realize you’re trying to destroy people who’re already dead? They’re all dead, Licia, only they don’t know it.” Things don’t end well for Giovanna—not after she finds Francesco and Licia in bed together—but she’s granted at least some self-realization rather than mindlessly accepting her pampered but empty existence.

Salvare la Faccia - 11 Mario and Licia force Paterlini to give them details of Brignoli's next corrupt deal

Mario (Paola Pitagora) and Licia (Marianne La Russe) force Paterlini (Renzo Petretto) to give them details of Brignoli’s next corrupt deal

The movie has some near-psychedelic uses of color, and there are plenty of other signs that this is a product of the Swinging Sixties. Miniskirts are everywhere, as are Minis. Girls have long hair, love is in the air and, if you’re not there, you’re square. The very catchy little pop song that runs over the opening credits could have been done by Cilla Black—at least until you listen to the lyrics. The movie has lots of nifty little jumpcuts. No one thinks it odd that the walls of Mario’s pad are covered in his drawings and paintings of female nudes. The clothing of the young tends to be black or in brilliant colors and patterns that make your eyes go funny. The list could go on.

Salvare la Faccia - 12 Adios, Mario

Adios, Mario (Nino Castelnuovo).

Rossano Brazzi was far better known as an actor than he was as a director; among his many movies as an actor were a few of noirish interest, ANGELA (1954), INTERLUDE (1957) and FEAR CITY (1984), plus La Promessa (1979 TVM), one of the several movies based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Das Versprechen (1958)—most recently filmed as The PLEDGE (2001). Salvare la Faccia is one of only three movies he directed. For the other two, Il Natale che Quasi Non Fu (1966; vt The Christmas that Almost Wasn’t) and 7 Uomini e un Cervello (1968; vt Criminal Affair), he used his own name; I’m not sure why he hid behind a nom de film here.

As I implied at the outset, if you come to Salvare la Faccia in anticipation of watching a piece of giallo—and that’s what all the US marketing of the movie that I’ve seen seems to want you to expect—you’re likely to be disappointed. One could hardly say its pleasures are subtle, but there are subtleties in there, as well as the slyness of its social observation. Like Licia herself, it’s highly attractive and only a step or two away from being a class act.

And, if you’re an animation fan and wondering why the name and face of Nestor Garay seem so familiar, you’re recognizing him from his role as the Orchestra Master in Bruno Bozzetto’s wonderful Allegro non Troppo (1976).

Salvare la Faccia - closer

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13 thoughts on “Salvare la Faccia (1969)

  1. I must admit that I thought this might be a giallo before I read your review. Not sure if it’s readily available on DVD, but if do I might be tempted to give it a whirl. Switching back to the giallo genre for a mo, have you seen Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio? If not, I would wholeheartedly recommend.

  2. “Brignoli’s none too delighted at the prospect of welcoming a habitual blackmailer into the family”
    Given the family, he’d probably fit in very well!

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