What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)
Directed by: Massimo Dallamano
Starring: Fabio Testi, Cristina Galbó, Karin Baal, Joachim Fuchsberger, Claudia Butenuth, Camille Keaton, Günther Stoll, Pilar Castel, Giovanna Di Bernardo, Marco Mariani, Antonio Casale, Emilia Wolkowicz, Daniele Micheletti, Antonio Anelli, Rainer Penkert
1/2 (out of 4)
What have you done to my Botticelli painting?
Warning: Some spoilers ahead.
What Have You Done to Solange? is not as well known as its other early 70s counterparts, but I have noticed that it has been moving up the lists of people’s favorite giallo movies, which is good because I consider it underrated and one of the better films of the genre (“giallo” being named after the yellow-covered, cheap, Italian paperback mystery novels). It is one of the few films of this type that deftly combines sleaze, murders with disturbing sexual components, a whodunit plot, gorgeous cinematography, and characters that actually have depth. And unlike some giallo flicks, it actually makes sense in the end. As icing on the cake, the soundtrack to Solange is among Ennio Morricone’s best work for this style of movie.
The plot starts off with a main character witness to a murder, but there’s something off about it that haunts her (you’ve seen this already in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and you’ll see it again in Deep Red). Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó, from Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) is having an affair with her Italian/P.E. teacher Enrico (Fabio Testi, from Four of the Apocalypse), who doesn’t believe her story about seeing a girl assaulted in the woods with a knife, until he hears about the murder on the news the next day. The pair are unable to go to the police, however, since that would tip off the faculty at St. Mary’s Catholic College for Girls about their illicit relationship, not to mention Enrico’s wife Herta (Karin Baal), who teaches German at the same school. Not that Herta doesn’t suspect something already; Enrico can barely hide it. There’s a well done scene introducing us to the school faculty as they are paid a visit by Inspector Barth (Joachim Fuchsberger), and another emotionally powerful scene where the victim’s father (Giancarlo Badessi) is shown an X-ray of his daughter’s corpse (with the murder weapon still inserted into her womb); the camera stays on his face as the scene transitions to her funeral.
Fabio Testi hates gardening.
Soon, other girls are dying from the same M.O. and the trail seems to point towards a priest as the culprit. Enrico soon finds out that the girls of St. Mary’s have been hiding a lot of sins. And something about a girl named Solange (Camille Keaton, who would later star in the infamous I Spit on Your Grave), who was part of the clique until something unspeakable happened and she dropped out of school. It’s all about secrets – at the church confessional, in the girls showers; the secret societies existing outside the domain of the priests and the parents.
What Have You Done to Solange? is also about innocence lost. The film is preoccupied with the notion of purity – take the eventual revelation that Elizabeth (herself a victim, Marion Crane-like) was still a virgin (“The school will erect a statue to her” suggests one policeman) and notice that this fact goes a long way towards absolving Enrique of his guilt, even in the eyes of his wife (although there’s a sticky element there hinting that she was ready to reconcile as soon as her female nemesis bought the farm). Penetration is the line where, once crossed, taints a person forever. The schoolgirls in this movie have grown up too early; even the camera indicts the audience as it leers through a peephole at the girls showers. These Catholic girls know all about lesbian affairs, orgies, and the ultimate taboo at the center of the picture – the horrible thing that drives poor Solange to an “infantile regression.” Note the surroundings when Brenda (Claudia Butenuth) meets up with Solange – she finds her riding a carousel at a carnival. There’s also the disturbing nature of the murders that is essentially rape by knife (thankfully, Massimo Dallamano mostly shows the aftermath of the crimes; imagine what an exploitation filmmaker like Fulci would have done).
Honestly, we’re too disturbed to come up with a quip.
The result of all this is to make sex and death almost inseparable emotionally. Having watched the movie twice, I feel like there’s merit in further viewings. (In fact, as I write this I am thinking of a scene where a professor drops a bag of apples. At first I didn’t think much of it, but now I’m wondering about the symbolism there…) What Have You Done to Solange? also does something interesting with characterization – it starts off with Karin Baal playing the German, ice-queen, wronged wife but then allows her to break her character’s constraints and become sympathetic and heroic. Even Enrico is first introduced as a horny, asshole boyfriend type before he lightens up and we are allowed to see him as a well meaning but flawed character. The movie pays attention to its relationships and tries to stay true to them. Even Joachim Fuchsberger’s character is portrayed as a capable inspector instead of a bumbling cop.
The attractive cinematography is done by – get this – Joe D’Amato (no stranger to exploitation: he directed Emanuelle in America, Beyond the Darkness, and Anthropophagus) and Morricone’s main score is poignant and bittersweet. Solange has exploitative elements for sure, but Dallamano handles them delicately. Finally, perhaps the movie also works well as a time capsule for London at the turn of the 70s, and a depiction of a society still trying to deal with the fallout from the sexual revolution (and interesting when taking into account that, 40 years later, the path from childhood to adult has accelerated even more). What Have You Done to Solange? is a compelling slice of 70s giallo.
– Bill Gordon
Buy “What Have You Done to Solange?” on DVD
The Shriek Show DVD of What Have You Done to Solange? is in anamorphic 2.35:1 and it looks great (for DVD). It’s out of print, but you can still pick up used copies for just over $30 (or rent the disc from Netflix). Extras are few, but the trailer to the film is there along with an art gallery. you also get trailers to The House of Clocks, The Sweet House of Horrors, The House on the Edge of the Park, and Spasmo. Hopefully, one day we’ll see a Blu-ray release.
Please stop the ride, mister. I’m gonna throw up cotton candy in a minute.