The second and final theatrical feature from Barilli, this is often referred to as a “giallo”, alongside his first effort, Il Profumo della Signora in Nero (1974). Despite containing a scene which features a figure in disguise killing one of the characters, it is, however, more of a thriller and a character study, as well as a handsomely-staged period piece. It also shares much with Barilli’s first feature (also, arguably, not a traditional giallo) in focusing on a psychologically-damaged female character, battling an obsession with a departed parent, and an ominous cabal which is slowly closing in on her.
Set in a lakeside Italian hotel towards the end of WWII, the film follows Rosa (Leonora Fani) who daydreams about the return of her idealised father, who has joined the partizans in the battle against the Nazis. In the meantime, she works alongside her mother to meet the largely unreasonable demands of a small group of hotel guests, including a man creepily obsessed with his dead family, a mature woman and her younger lover (the splendid Luc Merenda) and various spivs, collaborators and their molls. Also hidden away in the attic is a man on the run from unspecified forces (Francisco Rabal), who is having an affair with Rosa’s mother, much to her disgust.
Rosa is harassed by the guests on a seemingly daily basis – particularly by Merenda’s sleazy gigolo character. Her only respite, beyond dreams of her father, is the occasional trips to town where she meets with a young boy with whom she is starting a tentative relationship.
Following Il Profumo… Barilli shows great skill in exploiting location and the faded glamour of the lakeside hotel is exploited for maximum effect. The horror of the cumulative privations endured by even the comfortably-off during wartime are skillfully portrayed. The hotel is hit by power cuts which prompt a number of nighttime scenes shot by candlelight which give a great sense of the threat under which Rosa moves through its corridors.
The cast are uniformly excellent – Barilli extracts powerful performances from veterans Merenda and Rabal – but it is the central performance from Fani around which everything else turns. Concerns may be raised about the way in which Barilli (and Italian thrillers from the period in general) seem to delight in subjecting woman to an escalating series of trials and humiliations, but taken at face-value in this instance, the events befalling Rosa can be seen as just part of the dreadful collateral damage of war. Unfortunately, Fani did not seem to profit to any great extent from her excellent performance here and a few years later was – like many of the surviving actors of Italy’s last great period of film production – appearing low-rent gialli such as Giallo a Venezia (1979).
Though the plot does share many similarities with Il Profuma…, Rosa is spared the fate Mimsy Farmer endures in that film. Though her father does not return a proxy figure does make a late entrance to effect some vengeance for the indignities she has been subjected to, but in a pleasing coda she rejects the request to leave the hotel – opting to remain and await the never-returning father figure. It could be argued that she remains wedded to the patriarchal ideal, but it is made clear that she is beholden only to promise she made to her father – a promise that survives his death and is only more important to her, surrounded as she is by so many who are willing to immediately abandon all principle and humanity in the face of tyranny and war.