EDITOR’S NOTE: I met Mitchell L. Hillman on the Gialloholics Facebook group and loved reading his review of movies. I’m so excited that he’s joining us for Giallo Week!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mitchell Hillman is a freelance writer who has spent most of his time in print writing about music, movies, art, and pop culture. He is also a professional artist, occasional pop-up chef, and suffers an addiction to curiosity and discovery. Over the last year he has watched over 300 Giallo and Giallo related movies, finding that they influence not only how he thinks about film, but also art.
The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)
‘Una farfalla con le ali insanguinate’
Directed by Duccio Tessari
Long before I became a raving fan of Giallo, I was awestruck by Italian auteurs like Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, and long before I found that kind of art-house bliss, I was enamored with “Spaghetti Westerns” since I was a child. While I’m fairly late to the game in appreciating the Giallo genre, I have always held Italian films in the highest esteem, but for me it all began with those Westerns where everyone had great outfits and the violence was a bit outrageous by typical American standards.
Duccio Tessari wrote and directed two of my favorite Spaghetti Westerns, two back to back explosions of brilliance starring Giuliano Gemma, A Pistol For Ringo (1965) and the comparable if not better sequel The Return of Ringo (1965). When I started watching Gialli obsessively, I was thrilled to discover he had directed three of these of peculiar murder mysteries. Arguably, his second The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971) is not only the best of the bunch, but it may be the finest movie of his entire career. I first watched it shortly after going down the Gialli rabbit hole, after a quick education in Argento, Martino, Fulci, Bava, Lenzi, Ercoli and a few more. This movie stood up to those high standards and in some cases surpassed them, because The Bloodstained Butterfly isn’t just a great Giallo, it’s a great film in its own right beyond the context of the genre.
Most Gialli come in three discernible acts, but Tessari more or less presents The Bloodstained Butterfly in four. The first act starts by introducing each character after the credits roll with title cards as they go about their lives. This is notable and important as we see Marta, an alcoholic party girl who pours the first glass of J&B in the first three minutes of the movie; two schoolgirls Françoise and Sarah, Sarah’s mother Maria, her father Alessandro a TV sportscaster, their lawyer Giulio, a young pianist named Giorgio, and his mother and father. It’s an odd start, but as the movie unfolds you realize this movie is less about the violent acts that take place and more how these individuals’ lives are entwined.
The first act builds through the off-camera murder of Françoise in the park, presumably by a man in a beige overcoat with a houndstooth fedora, seen by several witnesses fleeing the scene, who we watch escape the clutches of the police in the pouring rain. Tessari immediately lets you know that he’s going to start messing with your head when we see Inspector Berardi at the murder scene wearing an identical outfit. The police procedural that follows shows off the fairly advanced forensic science of the early 1970s as they build evidence that put’s Sarah’s father on trial for the murder of her friend Françoise. It’s a tension-filled start that doesn’t let up until Maria admits to the police that she had to send Alessandro’s beige overcoat to the dry cleaners since it was covered in mud.
Act Two is a wild courtroom drama that is filled with flashbacks and re-enactments of the crime. The evidence seems almost too perfect against Alessandro and everyone seems suspicious at this point, if you’ve watched enough Gialli or mystery films in general, Tessari gives you serious “wrong man” vibe as the defendant is tried and sentenced to life. In the meantime, Giorgio has taken to dating Sarah, with more than a few hints that he was previously dating Françoise. He also seems to become more and more unhinged as the film continues.
The third act, almost seems like a bridge in a song, but it is an act unto itself in which Tessari makes you suspicious of nearly everyone, all the while assuring you that Alessandro is innocent. Another murder takes place and you suspect the lawyer Giulio, a third murder takes place and Giorgio is in the right place to be suspected. For a Giallo there is very little gore, and only aftermath, but it doesn’t make it less chilling. The horror is psychological as you question who is responsible for the murders since Alessandro is in prison. He is finally released when Marta, revealed to be his mistress, confirms his alibi.
The finale is one of my favorites and I’m not about to spoil it for anyone, it’s beautiful, a bit heart wrenching, and we understand the title in the last few moments. By the time the last act arrives you have no idea who the murderer is and you have reasons to be suspicious of everyone. Tessari’s direction is wonderful, the score by Gianni Ferrio is brilliant, and while it’s not the bloodiest or most colorful Giallo around, it’s one of the more intellectually and psychologically satisfying entries in the genre. Tessari’s “doorway transitions” are amazing and he even adds some humor with Inspector Berardi’s routine with being continually dissatisfied with every cup of coffee handed to him. I’d say it’s criminally underrated but, I’ve heard nothing but applause from fellow Giallo aficionados on this one. Even outside of the genre, the way Tessari plays with memory, space, time and perception makes for a great cinematic experience.