The nineteen eighties saw several important film makers experimenting with narrative styles – mostly by infusing poetic license into them – and Marco Bellocchio was part of the bandwagon. Because of his propensity to mix reality with fantasy, some of his films have often been misinterpreted as being surreal. His drama, “La Visione del Sabba” [Eng. Title: The Sabbath] is certainly in that category as he explores medieval sorcery and mental illness through a modern perspective.
Young psychiatrist Davide arrives at a Tuscan town to assess Maddalena, a woman accused of murdering a hunter. But Maddalena opines it was done in ‘self-defence’ – despite admitting to seducing the hunter in the first place. She felt it necessary to eliminate him after realising he’s not the one she’d been waiting for 350 years with whom to loose her virginity. While local officials don’t take her seriously, Davide not only believes her fascinating story, but also falls in love, even though he’s already married. Cristina, his beautiful wife tries to reason with him, but to no avail. Davide gets lost in a world of dreams and hallucinations where he sees Maddalena as a witch being prosecuted and even surviving the inquisitors – in other words, he himself is bewitched.
The film tries to explore the way men through the ages – broadly speaking of course, have fallen under the spell of charismatic women, and uses the premise of Maddalena’s ‘sorcery’ to make some interesting comparisons. But alas, it fails to utilise its runtime to explore this convincingly enough, even though Bellochio had at his disposal all the necessary ingredients. Béatrice Dalle is indeed an inspired casting choice – like a top predator in the wild, she emanates an aura of mystery, magnetism and approaching danger, which fits in so well with her character of Maddalena. The cinematography and lighting, as in all Bellocchio films, is of the highest order – some of the scene compositions are lit so beautifully as to recreate a Caravaggio, and contrasts with the interesting choice of music by Bellocchio-regular Carlo Crivelli. We also have some fine theatre through the remarkable choreography in some set-pieces, and the performances by the main actors are all of a decent standard, including that of the beautiful Corinne Touzet, another French actress in the film. And yet, I’m afraid to say that this film is clearly a case of style over substance, only manageable to watch because of the incomparable Ms. Dalle. It is nevertheless an extremely sensual drama with a visibly erotic undercurrent, and it is for that reason that this would be Recommended Viewing!
Béatrice Dalle, Corinne Touzet, Helena Coste, Bianca Pesce, and others