Feb 17, 2015

The Designated Victim




As an always easy-to-recognize fellow that starred in groundbreaking cinematic works by such top Occidental arthouse filmmakers as Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Liliana Cavani, Franco Brocani, Adriaan Ditvoorst, Philippe Garrel, Peter Fleischmann, Étienne O'Leary, Costa-Gavras, Dusan Makavejev, Miklós Jancsó, and Bernardo Bertolucci, French-Corsican actor and sometimes-experimental-filmmaker Pierre Clémenti (The Leopard, Belle de Jour) was certainly one of the most important and prolific European actors of the mid-1960s through early-1980s (though his career did not stop there) whose resume few other actors could touch in terms of starring in such an eclectic collection of distinguished arthouse masterpieces, so it seems somewhat strange that he would bother to star in a stereotypically sleazy yet stylish Italian Hitchcock rip-off at the height of his career, but he did and naturally I could not help but watch it. Indeed, The Designated Victim (1971) aka La vittima designate aka Slam Out aka Murder by Design is a decidedly decadent yet paradoxically thematically ‘reactionary’ and less than ambiguously gay Guido molestation of Hitchcock’s Patricia Highsmith adaptation Strangers on a Train (1950) starring Clémenti as an eccentrically effete psychopathic aristocrat that makes Oscar Wilde seem butch in terms of refined effeminacy who attempts to coerce Cuban-American leading man Tomas Milian into “swapping murders.” Directed by a relatively unknown and undignified genre hack named Maurizio Lucidi that sometimes used the Hebraic-sounding pseudonym ‘Mark Lender’ who got his start working as an assistant director on Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) and who went on to direct the senseless Django clone Halleluja for Django (1967) and even a Hebrew-language Italo-Israeli Zionist agitprop piece entitled Hamisha Yamim B'Sinai (1969) aka Five Days in Sinai, the film is basically Strangers on a Souped-Up Gondola in Venice as a work that attempts to combine Strangers on a Train and Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971) in a almost completely bloodless yet sometimes visually stunning quasi-giallo form. An innately uneven and sometimes poorly paced work that glaringly drags at the end but ultimately concludes with a provocative twist-ending that even Hitchcock might have admired (though I doubt it), The Designated Victim is a tale of sexual and psychological schizophrenia where Clémenti completely steals the entire show as the corrupting killer Count and ultimately makes Mr. Milian seem like a witless hack with nil acting chops by comparison. In fact, aside from the aesthetically soothing scenes of Venice and melodic yet melancholic score by Luis Bacalov, Lucidi’s work is ultimately only worth seeing for Monsieur Clémenti’s fiercely flamboyant performance as quite possibly the most devastatingly decadent and depraved aristocrat in all of cinema history as a character that makes Helmut Berger's Mad King Ludwig II in Visconti's Ludwig (1972) seem rather restrained. Indeed, in spite of hopeless hack Lucidi’s superlatively sophomoric direction and the fact that most of the other characters in the film are not much more than pretty yet plastic ciphers, The Designated Victim carries a sort of curious charisma that borders between the unintentionally humorous to the patently pathetic in the form of Clémenti, who completely carries the film as a young cultivated blueblood queen who has a totally preposterous and intangible dream that he ultimately charms and blackmails a weak beta-male designer into carrying out for him.  While both the male characters in the film have lady friends, the film ultimately depicts a dark and dysfunctional romance between two very different goombah guys who are both missing something vital in terms of their masculinity (or lack thereof).





 Stefano Argenti (Tomas Milian) is an unhappily married workaholic advertising designer from Milan who long ago made the mistake of marrying a woman that he did not love simply because she was rich.  Naturally, since he has made a fairly successful career for himself, Stefano no longer needs his fiercely frigid heiress wife, who rather resents her husband's self-earned success. Indeed, Luisa Argenti (Marisa Bartoli) is a soulless rich bitch and she no longer loves her hubby because he is now an increasingly enterprising designer who plans to make millions by starting up his own business.  A rather cold and seemingly latently Sapphic Ice Queen, Luisa is different from most women in that she seems to get off on men that are submissive and completely dependent on her and she can't seem to handle being with any fellow that is in the least bit competitive with her.  Unfortunately, to start his dream business in Venezuela, Stefano needs to cash shares that he owns, but they are all in his wicked wifey’s name and she won’t let him cash them, as she wants to keep him a weak and meek cuckold.  On top of everything else, Stefano is carrying on a hot and heavy love affair with a much younger French babe with a delectable derriere and equally enticing tits named Fabienne Béranger (Katia Christine). Stefano oftentimes takes his mistress Fabienne on lavish vacations so that they can be completely alone together without the threat of Luisa catching them and during a trip to Venice, the protagonist randomly meets an eccentric longhaired young aristocrat named Count Matteo Tiepolo (Pierre Clémenti) who is as shockingly thin as an anorexic coke-addled French runaway model and who is sporting a creepily colorful  weirdo wardrobe that would give Rothschild pawn Russell Brand (who seems like a retarded version of Clémenti's character) a hard-on that includes a purple silk scarf, grey gloves, red beanie, and various pieces of girly jewelry that makes him look like he was given a makeover by a colorblind gypsy tranny. Count Matteo is with a seemingly mute blackhaired babe with a completely blank stare that superficially resembles Morticia A. Addams who looks like she suffered a LSD-induced lobotomy and she is more or less the aristocrat’s sex slave, though he has little, if any, real sexual interest in her, especially after Stefano comes into his cockeyed gaze. 





 While Stefano soon says goodbye to the Count upon initially meeting him after the two both find themselves eying the same piece of jewelry sold by a Venetian street vendor, the protagonist finds himself bumping into Matteo again a couple more times that day, as if he and his mentally vacant Morticia-esque muse are following him. Upon the third time of bumping into one another, the Count invites Stefano and his mistress on his boat, though he makes Fabienne sit inside the watercraft with his girlfriend so that he can talk privately with the protagonist. Like many unhinged queens, Matteo soon reveals that he is a superficially witty yet also mentally feeble and rather superstitious man that believes in numerology who is addicted to trying new perverse things just for the kick since he is rich and spoiled and thus terribly bored with life. For example, Matteo describes to Stefano how he loaned out his slave “girlfriend” to another man for fun, though it ultimately proved to be just a “passing fancy” that he did “just for the experience.” As the decidedly debauched and superlatively spoiled Count explains in a sassy fashion, “I’m one of those who likes to try everything…for pleasure, for enjoyment” and when Stefano quips, “perhaps the only pleasure you got left is murdering someone,” Matteo gets an idea that will evolve into a murderous obsession. When Matteo learns about Stefano’s problems with his wench of a wife, he offers to kill her in exchange for the protagonist killing his abusive brother. As Matteo explains, his brother thinks he is a “worm” and that “there is only one purpose in his life…preventing me from living mine. He wants to destroy me,” or so he says. While Stefano seems somewhat attracted to Matteo’s proposal, he is too much of a beta-bitch pussy to actually go through with the plan, so the Count begins regularly stalking him around Milan and incessantly brings up his plan. When Stefano still will not budge, the rather pushy Count decides it is time to use more perniciously persuasive means that ultimately turn the protagonist into a semi-reluctant widow who is suspected of coldblooded uxoricide, among other things. 





 While he has his own personal servile female sex slave, Count Matteo is indubitably a wide receiver on the pink team and his obsession with Stefano clearly has a somewhat overt psycho-sexual dimension that causes the aberrant aristocrat to act in completely desperate and pathetic ways that are typical of lovelorn teenage girls. For example, like a scheming girly girl who wants to have some handsome man come to her ‘rescue’ and flatter her with attention, Matteo comes to Stefano while in a state of anguish and cries about scratch marks on his chest that were apparently caused by his mysterious evil brother, so the overly empathetic protagonist finds himself cleaning his bizarre blueblood bud's wounds like a husband comforting his wife. Of course, Matteo is merely carrying out a well thought out charade and he has big plans for unwitting pawn Stefano, who clearly underestimates the unhinged Count. Since his wife refuses to cash her shares, Stefano decides to forge her signature so he and his mistress can make their getaway to exotic Venezuela so that they can start a new life together. While the protagonist does not tell the Count of his intentions, Matteo figures it out on his own and decides to inform Stefano’s wife Luisa about her conspiring husband’s escape plans and secret mistress. When Luisa confronts Stefano about his mistress and forging her signature she makes sure to rub it into her husband’s face that he is a coward who always does things in ‘half-measures’ (to his credit, Stefano decides to leave his wife some of the money he has stolen, which is evidence to her that he is a weak man) and that if she actually still loved him she would have him arrested. Indeed, unlike a woman and or an exceedingly effeminate faggot like Matteo, Stefano suffers from a ‘moral dilemma’ regarding murder and that is the main reason why he refuses to “swap murders” with Matteo.  At one point in the film, Luisa even gives Stefano the opportunity to kill her but he predictably pussies out.  Ultimately, Matteo takes it upon himself to strangle Stefano’s wife Luisa to death and then blackmails the protagonist into having to kill his brother by framing him for the crime. To make sure that Stefano has no reasonable alibi for the time when Luisa is murdered, Matteo hires a young German whore named Christina Müller (Alessandra Cardini) to seduce the protagonist and keep him busy for a while. Of course, Matteo has Stefano exactly where he wants him to be, especially after a police inspector named Finzi (Luigi Casellato) becomes convinced that the protagonist is the culprit in the death of Luisa due to the nature of the murder, as well as due to the fact that he had forged his wife’s signature so that he could runaway with his mistress to Venezuela. 





 Undoubtedly, the last half an hour or so of The Designated Victim is fairly banal and largely revolves around the mostly unsympathetic protagonist Stefano attempting to find various ways to prove his innocence in regard to his belated wife’s death. Ultimately, Matteo, who is largely absent for the last thirty minutes of the film, tells Stefano that he will give him the evidence he needs to clear himself of the killing if he assassinates his brother from an ancient church balcony. Somewhat symbolically in a scene that blatantly contrasts the morality of old school Catholicism with the decadence of the modern aristocracy, Matteo wants Stefano to play sniper from an ancient Venetian Church and shoot his brother while he is standing next to a window in his luxurious art-adorned palace.  Of course, Stefano does not want to carry out of the assassination, so he decides to pull a gun on Matteo instead, but as the Count demonstrates by stating, “I adore melodrama…but I detest comic opera,” he is not afraid of a petty threat from such a weak man. In the end, Stefano finally gives in and decides to kill Matteo’s brother just as the police are arriving via boat to stop him. In a fairly intriguing, if not poorly executed twist, it is revealed that it was not Matteo’s evil brother that was murdered, but the Count himself. As it turns out, the Count never had an abusive brother, but instead an internal ‘evil twin’ that he wanted to kill in himself. 






 In its somewhat histrionic depiction of a crazed crypto-colon-choker Count from Venice who is so morally degenerate that his psyche has split and he has ultimately developed an evil alter-ego, it almost seems like The Designated Victim is a thinly-veiled attack against maestro Luchino Visconti who, aside from being a gay Italian aristocrat, released his pederast-themed masterpiece Death in Venice the same year as Lucidi’s film. What makes Lucidi’s film all the more provocative is that the protagonist assassinates the decadent aristocrat from a Church in what is ultimately a rather allegorical scene where the posh pervert is righteously stricken down from the house of God. Interestingly, the boy-obsessed pederastic protagonist of Death in Venice also perishes as an inadvertent consequence of his repressed yet increasingly uncontrollable homosexual vice after deciding to stay in cholera-ridden Venice because he becomes infatuated with a preteen boy who is ultimately the last person he sees before he succumbs to his illness. Ultimately, in the end, Clémenti’s character goes from seeming like a hyper-hedonistic homo psychopath to seeming like a terribly tragic figure that was a victim of his own privilege and is ultimately more sympathetic than the protagonist, who is not much more than a failed opportunist. Indubitably, another tragic aspect to The Designated Victim is that it had the potential to be a rare cult-worthy giallo-arthouse hybrid that transcended the line between high and low Guido celluloid art. The fact that they cast Clémenti—a man who starred in works by some of the most revered Italian arthouse filmmakers of that time, with Visconti not being the least notable of these directors—for the most imperative role of the film tells me that the makers of The Designated Victim were certainly shooting for something more than just another cheap throwaway Hitchcock-flavored giallo. In terms of other Visconti connections, the film was shot by cinematographer Aldo Toni who not only shot the blueblooded Milanese maestro's directorial debut Ossessione (1943)—a work regarded by some as the very first Italian neorealist film—but also Roberto Rossellini's Amore (1948) and Europe '51 (1952), Federico Fellini's early masterpiece Le notti di Cabiria (1957) aka The Nights of Cabiria, Marco Ferreri's early work La donna scimmia (1964) aka The Ape Woman, and John Huston's underrated Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) starring Marlon Brando as a repressed gay U.S. Army officer, among various other notable works. It should also be noted that both the production design and costume design was done by Enrico Sabbatini, who previously worked on goombah cult classics like Piero Schivazappa's seductively stylish psychedelic softcore flick The Laughing Woman (1969) aka Femina ridens and Mario Bava's beauteously brutal proto-slasher flick Reazione a catena (1971) aka A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve and would go on to work on Hollywood works like Jean-Jacques Annaud's Seven Years in Tibet (1997) starring Brad Pitt.  It is just a guess on my part, but I am going to have to assume that Sabbatini and cinematographer Toni were more responsible for the film's reasonable aesthetic pleasantness than director Lucidi, who seems to be the true Achilles heel of the work.  There are many things that can be said about The Designated Victim, but I think the most important is that, despite its glaring flaws, the film is nothing short of mandatory viewing for Clémenti fans, as the Corsican bohemian dandy most certainly gives one of the most flamingly flamboyant, internally tormented, suavely goofy and just plain gay performances of his rather fruitful acting career. 



-Ty E

4 comments:

Tony Brubaker said...

Ty E, why couldn`t ALL the pictures that you used to accompany the reveiw have been of the stunning babe with the incredible tits and arse, that bird is obviously THE best thing in the movie by a CUNT-ry mile ! ! !.

Tony Brubaker said...

Ty E, just with regards to those hideous fairys Luchino Visconti and Dirk Bogarde and the borderline faggotry depicted in this movie: DEATH TO ALL PANSY QUEER FILTH.

Tony Brubaker said...

Russell Brand is a bloody load of old rubbish simply because he is British, although i do of course respect his rampaging heterosexuality.

Tony Brubaker said...

In one of my accounts today the total was $807.00 so i withdrew $20 specifically so that the receipt would say "amount left: $787.00", there-by the last two digits were "87" when Heather was still alive so it was like i brought Heather back to life by lightening the account by $20 ! ! !.