An antique theatre drama with a modern structure, that is Lucio Fulci's grand oeuvre: 'Beatrice Cenci', released in 1969.
The film opens on the end of the story, as Beatrice Cenci and her family are about to be executed, after having been sentenced to death by the Pope for the murder of their father, Francesco Cenci. This opening scene introduces a structure made of flashbacks, an unusual construct for a film aiming at recreating a classic tragedy from the Italian Renaissance.
Apart from this innovative structure, it looks like Lucio Fulci wanted to come up with a typical historical movie: sophisticated costumes, impressive locations, hundreds of extras, the whole thing feels like a big production with unusually high budgets, aiming at bringing XVIth century Rome back to life.
Fulci probably thought this film should have elevated him to the auteur status. But it did not. Maybe because he was trying a little too hard. Maybe because he thought the Cenci tragedy would allow him to prove he was good at directing actors.
Directing actors is obviously not Fulci's main skill. Thus, the acting comes across as if it was classic theatre, where comedians play in a Shakespearian manner - a little overacted.
Partly because of its flaws, Beatrice Cenci is a very interesting film: it is a twisted historical movie. Behind Fulci's apparent willingness to stay true to the codes of the genre, his obsessions arise, and soon neither the dialogues nor the acting really matter anymore: it's the bodies, again and again. Insisting close-ups on flesh and bodies in pain come back, in typical Fulci's style.
The whole film is a long and painful torture, which pace is set by the construction in flashbacks: it is about a man torturing his family, both psychologically and physically, and then about the Church torturing the same family to make them admit they killed this man (again, Fulci's extremely critical point of view on Religion, as in "Don't torture a duckling"). Inevitably, this leads to a fatal ending - we know it from the very first scene.
Finally, it's a film built on the opposition of two characters: the ogre, Francesco Cenci. Inhuman, corrupted, shameless, cruel, sweating. And his daughter, Beatrice Cenci. Pure, idealistic, faithful, strong, beautiful. She will be the one deciding to kill her father, with the help of her lover.
This is when we will realise that the ogre and her daughter, while seemingly opposite, are in fact very close to each other. Like him, she is merciless.
Beatrice Cenci is Fulci's long-forgotten gem, laying out in 1969 the director's favourite themes of the following decade. Neo Publishing has just released it in DVD.
More on Fulci from this blog here.