LA DONNA DEL LAGO
Color, 1975, 96m.
Directed by Luigi Bazzoni
Starring Florinda Bolkan, Peter McEnery, Lila Kedrova, Nicoletta Elmi, John Karlsen, Evelyn Stewart, Klaus Kinski
Koch Media (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Shameless (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), Cinekult (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
B&W, 1965, 95m.
Directed by Luigi Bazzoni
Starring Peter Baldwin, Salvo Randone, Valentina Cortese, Pia Lindström
Koch Media (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Sinister (Blu-ray & DVD) (Italy RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
LA DONNA DEL LAGO
You'd have to look pretty hard to find a giallo more visually stunning than Footprints, the second and final thriller directed by Luigi Bazzoni after his previous success, The Fifth Cord. That prior film's cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro (who went on to earn Oscars for Apocalypse Now, Reds, and The Last Emperor), returned here and really outdid himself with an eye-popping symphony of light and color that gives it a look unlike any of its peers. As much a mind-bending, dreamy art film as a commercial suspense film, this is one of the strongest vehicles for actress Florinda Bolkan (A Lizard in a Woman's Skin) and remains something of a hidden gem among genre fans, a thoughtful and melancholy alternative when you want to take a break from the more traditional black-gloved killers.
Italian translator Alice Cespi (Bolkan) suffers from eerie, unsettling nightmares about an astronaut abandoned on the moon by his colleagues under orders from their command post headed by Professor Blackmann (Kinski in a glorified cameo). She believes the visions are inspired by a film called Footprints on the Moon that frightened her so much as a child she couldn't make it to the end, but that's nothing compared to an even greater mystery. Alice can't remember anything that happened for the past three days, and the only clue she manages to find is a torn photograph depicting a hotel at a nearby beach resort town, Garma. Unable to glean any other information from her friends (including a brief role by giallo staple Evelyn Stewart, aka Ida Galli), she takes some time off to visit the area and discover what might have happened during her lost time. Upon arriving at the hotel she encounters an odd assortment of characters including a little girl named Paula (Elmi, the redheaded mascot of many '70s Italian horror films) who insists Alice has been there before using the name Nicole. Then there's a soulful young man named Henry (McEnery) and the wealthy widow Mrs. Heim (Kedrova), who all seem to know a little more than they're telling. On top of that, Alice is still plagued by visions of those astronauts, the full meaning of which won't be revealed until the end.
Originally released as Le orme in Italy and sometimes shown as Footprints on the Moon, this was never given a theatrical release in many English-speaking countries including the United States, where it only limped in later on VHS from Force Video in 1986 as Primal Impulse. For some reason the English export version was trimmed by six minutes, jettisoning some dialogue and atmospheric moments but not particularly affecting the plot. Even in this compromised form the film still managed to grab a small fan base over the years, at least for those willing to look past the more lurid promises of the cover box and instead enjoy what turned out to be a haunting, beautifully constructed little gem of a psychological thriller. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the film's current state is the unavailability of its soundtrack in any format; composer Nicola Piovani (Life Is Beautiful) delivers a simply stunning tapestry of music here, even surpassing his excellent work on Flavia the Heretic and The Perfume of the Lady in Black (either of which would make a good double feature with this one). Hopefully some label will jump on it as this may be the single finest unreleased Italian soundtrack out there at the moment.
The first DVD out of the gate for Footprints came in 2009 from the UK label Shameless, who presented a new transfer of the Italian version with the entire Italian-language version with optional English subtitles as well as the original English track with subbed Italian slotted in for the extra footage. The slightly windowboxed transfer looks pretty drab with muted colors and very pale blacks, but it still beats the tape. Extras include a teaser for the U.S. VHS release, an image gallery, a very lo-res English trailer, and the alternate English-language opening titles from a VHS source.
An imperfect but far superior (albeit pricier) option is the 2015 German Blu-ray and DVD set (five discs!), which is also slightly windowboxed but comes from a vastly superior source with beautiful colors and much deeper, richer blacks. The transfer does the best job to date at conveying the striking contrast between the icy, modern environment of the opening act and the warm but sinister fairy tale wonderland of the rest, and the Italian source used is in perfect condition. (The print damage during the monochrome moon nightmare footage is intentional.) Unfortunately there's some comparatively restrained scanner noise visible on the transfer, a problem that will seemingly plague many Italian-sourced HD transfers until the end of time, but it's actually less evident in motion and doesn't really detract from the viewing experience to a major degree. The DTS-HD MA mono options on the Blu-ray include the English, Italian, and German tracks with optional German subtitles. The film was almost entirely shot in English with most of the principals providing their own voices, so that's easily the best way to go. In a nice gesture, the extra Italian footage is also given optional English subtitles, so this is definitely a complete print and 100% English friendly. Extras on the Blu-ray and DVD include the English trailer (still looking rough), the Italian trailer (which looks gorgeous), and a gallery of stills and poster art.
So, what's on the other discs? Well, there's also a Blu-ray and DVD for Bazzoni's first feature film, the dreamlike horror outing La donna del lago(also known as The Possessed and its faithful translation, The Lady of the Lake). This is another one whose reputation has bumped up a bit in recent years thanks to the availability of fan subtitle files floating around, and while this one doesn't have an English-friendly option, anyone who has that srt file and a little digital know how should be able to play them together pretty easily. Peter Baldwin (The Ghost, The Weekend Murders) stars as Bernard, a novelist who decides to take a summer holiday at a lakeside town to see an on-and-off flame named Tilde. Upon arriving it seems she was murdered and thrown into the lake, but there doesn't seem to be any physical evidence... and the townspeople don't seem too willing to divulge details. When murder strikes again, Bernard digs deeper into the mystery and comes up with answers that are none too pretty.
This one is also beautifully shot with an emphasis on shimmering light and reflective water, while the screenplay boasts a pretty incredible roster of collaborators including Bazzoni, Giulio Questi (Death Laid an Egg), and Franco and Renzo Rossellini. The HD transfer looks excellent (the same source was also used for an Italian Blu-ray, again with no English options), taken from a pristine film element with zero damage and very nice contrast. A full-on special edition of this film would be welcome someday, but what we have here is an Italian-language featurette with German subtitles, "Das Mysterium des Sees," with Questi, makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi and film historian Fabio Melelli chatting for 35 minutes about the film. On the fifth disc is a DVD containing a trio of bonus features for Footprints: "Malen Mit Licht," a 74-minute interview with Storaro in Italian with German subtitles; "Kinderstar," a 50-minute interview with Elmi in Italian with German subs; and a 9-minute breakdown of the film by Dr. Marcus Stiglegger, a familiar face from many Camera Obscura releases, in German. The hefty package also contains a liner notes booklet with a Germany essay by Christian Kessler.