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    Grand Bolognini

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Mother love can be a bitch, particularly when carried to extremes. Consider the possibility of a movie about a woman so possessive of her adored son facing army conscription that she murders three women, incredibly inspired by an actual case of dismemberment killings originating in Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy in the years preceding World War II. Add gender-bending casting involving an internationally recruited ensemble and you bring to a “grand boil” – literally – director Mauro Bolognini’s Gran Bollito (1977), known elsewhere as Black Journal, headlining Shelley Winters as a character modeled after the notorious Leonarda Cianciulli, dubbed the Soapmaker of Correggio, who slew three women neighbors in 1939 and 1940 as a deluded form of human sacrifice to safeguard her offspring and fashioned her victim’s remains into soap and teacakes. (Cianciulli is still a fascinating subject of filmmaker study. Distant family relation Rosaria Cianciulli wrote, produced and played the title role in the “psycho-thriller” short Leonarda, directed by Luca Brinciotti, which screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.) In a appraisal of the career of Bolognini (1922-2001), noted for well-appointed literary adaptations, film historian David Melville (who considers Gran Bollito “possibly his most brilliant and audacious work”) writes: “As they seduce us and lure us in, the films of Mauro Bolognini grant us entry to a strange and contradictory world. On the one hand, a world of exquisite visual surfaces, of flawless recreations of period and place that have led him to be dubbed ‘the most Proustian of Italian directors.’ On the other hand, a world of raw passions in which doomed lovers push one another to extremes of emotional and physical cruelty….Imagine if you can, a film by James Ivory as remade by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Or vice versa. Or, if that puts too much of a strain on the imagination, just try to see one of the films.” With the hi-def approach of Gran Bollito, you’ll see quite a bloody eyeful. “To make things more bizarre,” Melville adds in his evaluation of the menagerie surrounding Winters as Lea, a released mental patient suffering from troubling visions, “her neighbors are all middle-aged women played by male actors in drag. (Among them, I kid you not, is a spookily convincing Max von Sydow!)” The hallowed Swedish icon (as Lisa) joins Italian character actors Renato Pozzetto (Stella) and Alberto Lionetto (Berta) as the blinkered, ill-fated – but convincingly acted – trio of local ladies who seek out Lea’s psychic advice and later turn up in the film in the respective roles of a police marshal, a carabinieri operative and a banker to put a kind of full-circle directorial flourish on the outlandish proceedings. Rita Tushingham, Laura Antonelli and Adriana Asti are also on hand among the unsuspecting and suspicious in Lea’ circle of acquaintances. The always compelling centerpiece is the unmatchable Winters, justly esteemed for a gallery of screen mothers as victims (The Night of the Hunter, Wild in the Streets), victimizers (A Patch of Blue, Bloody Mama, What’s the Matter with Helen?, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?) and a combination of both (Lolita). The sinister stew of Gran Bollito is a combination of many ingredients, seasoned with the spice of social indictment. Writing 10 years ago, Melville observed: “When the carabinieri arrest her, Winters launches into a fierce tirade: ‘Yes, I have killed! But that is nothing compared to what you will do! A terrible war is coming! You will all kill and be killed!’ If she is guilty of her crimes, how much more guilty will Italy become under Il Duce? A whole nation will soon be complicit in mass murder; the people are marching blindly towards their own doom. The police, of course, do not understand her. No more, it seems, did the critics or the public understand Bolognini. A spectacular flop, Gran Bollito is all but impossible to see today.” Now you can. See if Gran Bollito, featuring a lively commentary by giallo specialists David Del Valle and Derek Botelho, is to your taste when it debuts November 15 on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray. Preorders open October 26.