DVD: In Hell / Gloria Mundi / Tortura (1976)

December 25, 2013 | By


Film: Excellent/ DVD Transfer: Good/ DVD Extras: Standard

Label: One 7 Movies  / Region: 0 (NTSC) / Released: October 8, 2013

Genre: Drama / Erotica / Experimental

Synopsis: An actress is determined to complete her late husband’s film about torture, itself a critical assault against the French occupation of Algeria.

Special Features: Stills Gallery




One 7 Movies’ DVD adds a wholly unrelated cover image and new title to Nikos Papatakis’ highly political commentary on the hypocrisy of the French occupation of Algeria and the use of torture to control its native citizens.

Papatakis’ association with the arts was long and varied, moving from bit actor to burlesque house owner and later filmmaker, yet his best known work may be producer of Jean Genet’s only film, Song of Love / Un chant d’amour (1950). Papatakis returned to moviemaking in 1963 with Les Abysses, and over the next 30 years directed three movies, and wrote scripts for another trio, but very little of his work exists on video in North America.

In Hell may be the film’s North American debut, and One 7 Movies have sourced a fairly mangled print for their adequate DVD. Those familiar with the label’s output know what to expect: variable source prints with sometimes infuriating technical issues, loose subtitle synchronization, and teasing campaign art that’s often wholly unrelated to the film; that cover image is not in the film whatsoever. In Hell exists in a much cleaner Italian DVD, but this edition resembles a beat up VHS tape sporting an ancient transfer of what looks like a lone print found in a producer’s trunk.

The print and transfer’s rough quality kind of adds to the film’s existing docu-drama style, and while very much uncut (it’s hard to imagine there’s strong material out there), there’s a peculiar IMDB entry stating the film’s original running time at 130 mins. The Italian DVD has the same running time as this release, so the presumption is a longer French cut which may have featured more scenes flashing back to the aborted film, if not the dead director whose film the lead character is desperate to finish. (A French trailer, emphasizing cruel French imperialism, shows scenes not in the shorter Italian edit.)

Papatakis gives the film-within-a film and movies-about-moviemaking sub-genres a whole new spin with this anti-establishment tale of a director’s widow Galai (Olga Karlatos) who follows the directions of her missing-in action husband in preparing for her role prior to a pitch session for seed money, in order to complete the half-finished movie about the French occupation of Algeria.

This, however, becomes a ruse, because Galai is seemingly aware that part of her goal is to destroy a faction of the French bourgeoisie – investors and snooty colleagues who treat her as a servant and object of ridicule. Rather than bow to their torments and further humilations, she seeks to cross over from her film role into reality, and make an impact through a real-life act of total destruction.

Whether the film is approachable as an allegory, satire, or harsh critique of French colonialism, In Hell is not for the squeamish, even though it’s neither a gore film nor insane erotic romp.

Galai’s masochistic method acting includes torturing herself to achieve the right scream for her character; doing scene run-throughs with a live bomb; and humiliating herself in sexual poses, plus one act involving digestive expulsions. When she finally shows an assembly of the unfinished films to the batch of snooty investors, two sequences detail a ‘bottle trick’ sequence, and a brutal torture scene which Papatakis films from a high angle in one long take.

These are the film’s most controversial and likely most-talked about elements, but beneath the garish and the profane is a rather brilliant, anarchic, cinematically playful storytelling technique. While not fully linear, In Hell has a coherent plot even though Galai’s reality is never fixed. We also never know if she’s being influenced by real or imagined forces, and whether Papatakis’ film is one big political salvo much in the way of Dusan Makaveyev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Orgasm (1971) involves the signing decapitated head of a political agitator, or his Sweet Movie (1974) and its excrement dinner.

In Hell isn’t an exercise in surrealism, but more performance art, and Karlatos is brilliant as the tormented actress who gradually loses her mind in what may be a make believe terrorist crusade orchestrated from the grave by her anarchic director / husband Hamidas. It’s a great performance by an actress better known for more commercial genre films – the spaghetti western Keoma (1976), shockers Cyclone (1978) and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979) and Murderock (1984) – and a handful of TV and film appearances, notably Prince’s mother in Purple Rain (1984).

As revolting / appalling as the sexual torture may be, it is in context with the character’s shift from actress to terrorist, and Papatakis stages some brilliant sequences. The best is perhaps Galai’s bank bombing run-through, which has both wit and a mounting fear that she may err and blow herself to bits as she works out the correct blocking and performance beats.

Papatakis also makes use of some striking decrepit locations. Galai resides in a bombed out apartment block, and her building is a disintegrating by the second. The production most likely decorated a condemned, derelict building, and the omnipresent decay provides potent subtext in her scenes prior to venturing to France for financial backing. There’s also a few intriguing editorial touches, especially the zoomed-in masking of a notice informing Galai of imminent danger.

Nico Fidenco, no stranger to controversial films – he scored Joe D’Amato’s snuff-centered Emanuelle in America (1977) – wrote an appropriately peculiar score with upbeat cues accentuating Galai’s terrorist actions, and abstract ‘rubbing sounds’ for the bomb montages. In spite of One 7 Movies’ beat-up source print, Frederic Variot’s cinematography is very arresting, accentuating the grunge of Galai’s wretched apartment and the garishness of the ugly upscale Parisian apartment where the film terminates.

One 7 Movies’ DVD includes a short gallery of posters and lobby cards branded with the film’s original Italian title – Tortura – and it is strange the label chose to ignore that striking art in favour of a cover that has nothing to do with the film.



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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