A test of friendship: “Gioco al massacro” [1989 Italy]

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Damiano Damiani’s filmography is also one of the most disparate – he doesn’t mind dipping into different genre. But he also has this unique quality of transcending it using cinematic flair, making his films acceptable to even a critical mainstream audience. His rather obscure “Gioco al massacro” [Eng. Title: A Human Portrait] is an intelligent mystery and psychological drama, made entirely in English using a multinational cast.

Film makers Clem Da Silva (Tomas Milian) and Theo Steiner (Elliott Gould) are childhood friends, although now estranged. While both are gifted and equally passionate about cinema, their destinies couldn’t have been any different – multiple Oscar winner Theo is successful and admired around the world, whereas few have ever heard of Clem, because he often gets to work only for television. Clem has accused Theo of plagiarising his ideas that, to add insult to injury, went on to win awards. As if it weren’t bad enough, Clem’s girlfriend of many years Bella (Nathalie Baye), will also leave him to live with Theo. Harbouring a degree of resentment and also jealousy – towards a man that he thinks had stolen both his work and life, Clem breaks contact with Bella and Theo for ten years. But he has also been closely following Theo’s work all the time, and during a visit to Capri, couldn’t resist approaching Theo’s villa. When he changes his mind and turns back to leave, he’s promptly hailed back by Theo who had seen him approaching. He persuades Clem to stay in his villa at least for the weekend. It appears that, despite all that’s happened, there is perhaps still a bond connecting the two.

His stay will not only see Clem reconcile with Bella, but also resume an affair, that’s also tolerated by Theo. He will meet a major producer at their private party, and will also be offered a contract to work on a film. However, Clem gradually becomes suspicious of Theo’s intentions and begins to feel that he is being exploited once again. A game of wits will ensue between the two, to which Bella will act as the referee. The audience will be kept guessing on the real intentions of Theo until the very end, as the film goes through various Hitchcockian twists and turns…

This is also a film about film-making, and there is plenty to keep an enthusiast engaged. Like in the below clip where Clem auditions Rosita (Eva Robin’s) for a scene where a transsexual supposedly opens up to her mother for the first time. I thought it was both hilarious and touching at the same time.

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The film is full of surprises – from its intelligent script and storytelling, to its gripping suspense. Not to forget – the eclectic cast – how often would you see a Nathalie Baye and a John Steiner in the same film – both may be talented, but belong to completely different worlds altogether. The performances by all the main actors live up to their reputation, and Damiani handles them extremely well. The obscure gem has never been remastered in DVD, and is crying out to be rediscovered. If you can get past the foreign accents, you will certainly enjoy this film. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

eBay DVD Link [PAL]
Stamped in Greece, this seems to be the only DVD edition that’s ever been authored at the time of posting.


The Nudity: Jennifer Rubina Laser and Eva Robin’s
Cute Jennifer Rubina Laser (don’t remember seeing her in any other film) plays promising starlet Noni, who in a scene undergoes a screen test by Theo under Bella’s watchful eye. In another scene, a more familiar and pretty Eva Robin’s (true – her name has an apostrophe) plays Rosita, authentically cast in the lead role for a film about a transsexual, during which she has an outdoor shower, au naturel..! Ms. Robin’s however doesn’t like being referred to as a transsexual, but rather a transgender. I find it hard to differentiate between the two – perhaps someone could enlighten me…

Jennifer Rubina Laser and Eva Robin's nude in Gioco al massacro aka A Human Portrait

Jennifer Rubina Laser and Eva Robin’s in Damiano Damiani’s obscure little gem, “Gioco al massacro”
aka “A Human Portrait”.



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