Director: Corrado Farina
First released: 1971
This is a vampire movie – though if you only give it a cursory look you might miss that fact. It is also one of the better films in which vampirism is a simile for capitalism and, in 2009, given the state that the neo-liberal capitalists have left the world’s economy in, its about time this film had a general DVD release, restored and subtitled.
The key to the film is in the title ‘They have Changed their Faces’ and whilst this is a cynical look at the evils of capitalism the actual key components are taken straight out of the how to film vampires handbook. Indeed there are moments that owe their very existence to Bram Stoker and Dracula.
Welcome to the world of Dr Alberto Valle (Giuliano Disperati), who works for Auto Avia Motors (AAM). He arrives at work and is called to the Vice President’s office, who takes him to the CEO of the company. The CEO tells him that the company’s owner, Engineer Giovanni Nosferatu (Adolfo Celi), has asked him to visit his villa in the mountains. Obviously the owner’s name needs no comment but I will say that the soundtrack, in parts, seemed reminiscent of the score for The Fearless Vampire Killers, I suspect deliberately so. Alberto drives through the Mountains until he reaches a village.
He calls to some peasant ladies, asking if a gas station is nearby. They ignore him. He steps out of his car and looks around. We are in the desolate village near the vampire’s castle – and a better location, than that shot, I doubt they could have found. He approaches an old man and asks about a gas station but is ignored again. A woman (Francesca Modigliani) says that she can take him, if he gives her a ride. Beneath her coat she is naked from the waist up. He asks who she is and she walks off. He gives her a lift and it turns out she is called Laura.
They reach the gas station, a place shrouded in fog. An attendant fills the car up but as soon as Alberto mentions Villa Nosferatu the attendant scarpers. The journey continues – with Laura reading his palm (it says he is something important, like a CEO). They arrive at the Villa and the gates are locked. Laura states it is a strange place, cold and no birds sing. A side gate is open but he will have to leave the car. Laura asks him to stay and make love to her, but duty calls. She says she’ll wait for him. He leaves the car keys with her – she should leave them on the dash if she goes. As he walks the path to the house two white cars flank him, though the drivers say nothing. We’ll discuss the cars soon.
He enters the house and the door locks behind him. He is turning the handle frantically when Corinna (Geraldine Hooper) appears and asks whether he wants to leave. She is Nosferatu’s secretary. She leaves him a moment and he takes a seat – an advert about the chair plays through speakers. When he is taken to his room and has a shower an advert plays about a shower tonic. Outside lots of white cars patrol and then, as night falls, he meets Giovanni Nosferatu. Dinner, it turns out, is made up of four pastes – all nutrient rich, but without flavour. Nosferatu had the flavour suppressed – food should be for energy, pleasure is inefficient.
Nosferatu excuses himself and Corinna takes Alberto for a walk in the park. He seems to see a body – she says it is a log, but he cannot approach as the cars prevent it. Inside Nosferatu is in his shooting range, we note that the targets grunt when hit. He offers Alberto the job of CEO of AAM and explains that he has many interests and needs the right men at the helm – Alberto can think about it for as long as he needs. When the house is asleep Alberto hears walking about, investigates and then explores. He walks along a corridor with capitalist mantras being played and finds a room with a nursery behind glass (including several babies) and a file. The file has his picture as a baby and states he will be CEO of AAM.
Shaken, he returns to his room. Corinna is there (she says the babies are those of employees, indicating it is a crèche like facility) and why shouldn’t Nosferatu research his employees. They end up in the shower together and then in bed together. When they make love a condom advert plays. However, contrasted with this scene, is one of Laura being dragged from the car and into the house. She is in a room and Nosferatu approaches her. He leans towards her neck and it might be a bite, we just cannot see that well.
I could go on but there are three scenes only I wish to mention – two for their vampiric overtones and one because it shows the brand of capitalism Nosferatu controls. The first is when Alberto discovers a half buried, abandoned graveyard. In it is a crypt and he enters it. The crypt has been abandoned for years, it seems, but he finds a coffin with the name Giovanni Nosferatu on it. There is a date (Alberto presumes of birth) of 1801 but no second date. I loved the way the filmmakers juxtaposed the ultra modern of the house interior with the decrepit, and atypical, gothic crypt.
The next scene was a business meeting that Alberto eavesdrops upon. It is of the chemical division – an area that is getting ready with a new LSD product now they have ensured it will be legalised, a concept that reminded me of Brave New World. One of the board is a Cardinal (ensuring that they are aware of the church opinion and we are rather pointedly reminded that the Vatican supported Mussolini through conversations before the meeting starts). Another member claims, during the meeting, that he has not had to discipline any staff as there are no dosciplinary problems. Reading in breaks is prohibited for workers and Nosferatu has pictures of a worker reading in the toilet. Another couple (actually married) who work for the contraception division have been photographed having sex at work – when the manager suggests they use the pictures as an advert for Nosferatu contraception we see more pictures of them buying baby clothes. The manager is told to leave the villa, on foot. The woman is to be aborted, the man sterilised.
Walking out on foot means being run down by the guard cars and this leads us into the final scene I wish to mention. Alberto accuses Nosferatu of being a vampire and quotes the business man – myths do not die they get transformed. Nosferatu is dismissive of the idea but asks what Alberto will do, stake him? At first Alberto mentions the newspapers and the police, but Nosferatu owns them. He then suggests urban terrorism against the businesses and Nosferatu allows him to leave. As he walks, and the cars prowl, then chase and herd him back to the Villa, one is reminded of the scene of Harker trying to leave Castle Dracula and the wolves being at the door.
This is an astounding, dourly cynical film that side sweeps at the evils of capitalism and the dangers of power through money. This Nosferatu may have bitten Laura – we do not know, but we do discover she changes into conformity because of the incident – but he certainly sucks the life blood of society. He controls production, supermarkets, infrastructure, newspapers, the police and the clergy. Corinna will not enter the village church (and a peasant woman crosses herself when she sees her) but this is not further explored and just left to our imaginations and genre preconceptions to fill in the gaps.
It is cleverly written, well acted and excellently shot. The dull colours in the cinematography suit the mood of the piece and Farina manages to keep a sense of tension running through the entire film. One to really go out of your way to find – as obscure as it might be.
8 out of 10.
The imdb page is here.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Director: Corrado Farina