Sunday, 10 May 2015

Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

As a big fan of "Night Train Murders", Aldo Lado's bloody and shocking treatise on class, I've been really looking forward to this film.

"Short Night of Glass Dolls" is gialli Jim, but not as we know it. There are no black gloves, blood is mostly kept off screen, and a knife is rarely seen here. What we do get is a really interesting mystery story with a macabre edge - the twin foundations of giallo. Rather than a shadowy killer we have a secret organisation, an almost illuminati like cabal and the tale of a dogged reporter's hunt for his missing girlfriend told in flashbacks.

The location is Czechoslovakia; a country under soviet control and the colour red features heavily from the "red curtains" separating the workings of the cabal from the proletariat, to the state newspaper "Rudé právo" (Red Truth) and finally the red blood of the young spilled by the state and by implication, the cabal. The story is full of portents and omens from ravens, to tolling bells and walking over graves stones and as the film progresses Prague's labyrinthine city streets become ever darker, full of uncaring citizens and corrupt police officers and an increasing sense of dread and foreboding colours the film. The image of the butterfly is used throughout to symbolise a fragile freedom that the cabal's machinations seek to undermine. Possibly one particular use of a display of dead and pinned butterflies shows that the only real freedom in Prague is death.

Cinematography is excellent with wonderful high long shots of the city and some Leone-like zooms and tracking shots. Morricone supplies a score that starts and ends with a percussive heartbeat, moves through wistful, to a dark and chilling climax.

In Short Night of Glass Dolls, Lado revisits the theme of class struggle of Night Train Murders but adds a touch of individualism and freewill versus totalitarianism and control.

To quote the film: "Human beings separate all matter into classes. The world isn't made that way." and as some of the Crass stencils I saw on the side of buildings once said "Whoever you vote for, government always wins". Quite an apt film for this week I think.

Original letterboxd review

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