Resist the urge to make a Beyonce joke. This movie is really different than I was expecting, and worth watching. On the surface, you’ll see all of the trappings of a classic Giallo film: badly dubbed, lots of nudity, misogynistic violence, mystery killer, … etc. But then, there are other things to surprise you. The visual style is very naturalistic, no gels, no dramatic angles. Mild implication of psychic ability? The story is also surprisingly empathetic to its young female cast in some ways (okay, but also a few pervy shower scenes). Welcome to Massimo Dallamano’s What Have you Done to Solange? (1972). Spoilers ahead.
So our protagonist is a Catholic girl’s school teacher, Enrico Rosseni (Fabio Testi), having an affair with a student, Elisabeth (Cristina Galbo). Gross, right? But the film goes out of its way to explain that it’s totally fine through dialogue with another teacher basically giving him a thumbs up. Also, it turns out he didn’t take her virginity (despite much effort depicted in the film) so it doesn’t count… plus he said he would marry her…
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When our film starts, Enrico and Elisabeth are having a romantic outing in a rowboat where he tries to coax her into sex. So, breasts 5 minutes into the film, good job. She stops him because she sees someone in the bushes. No polite way to put it, our killer stabs a girl in the vagina. Over the course of the film, this is repeated with several girls from the school. But why? Elisabeth gradually remembers important details from the killing, like he wore a priest’s habit. During the ensuing investigation, the affair is eventually exposed and Enrico loses his job. Fair, right? Bizarrely, he decides to go all Scooby Doo on the murders with the tacit blessing of the police. Sure, why not?
So, the affair. His “cold, German” wife, Herta (Karin Baal), forgives him immediately… You know, once Elisabeth is horribly murdered in the secret apartment her husband had for their affair. I have to say, that murder came as a surprise. It was even a different murder method. She seemed to be the female lead right up until that moment, now the wife emerges as part of his Scooby Doo murder mystery gang. I briefly wondered whether it would turn out that Herta murdered Elisabeth completely separate to the other crimes.
So… who is Solange? Did you forget about her? I did, I was totally hung up on sleazy Enrico. Somehow all the murdered girls link back to her, but no one will say anything more. It all comes down to looking for her.
The reveal at the end is actually kind of heartbreaking. It certainly explains the killer’s motive and method. Shall I tell you? Solange was the secret daughter of one of the teachers. The same one who approved of Enrico’s affair with a student, so there is possibly an implication there.
Solange was secretly a party girl along with her group of friends from the Catholic school. Since Catholics don’t believe in birth control, she instead wound up going to have an abortion on the kitchen table of her friend’s maid. Afterwards, she went catatonic and her father wanted to find out why. He started disguising himself as a priest and taking the confessions of her friends, then interrogating them before killing them, thus gradually piecing things together. Through convoluted events, Enrico draws the police to him and witnesses his suicide when the police find one of the girls in his attic. Then, as in all great Giallo films, freeze and abruptly roll credits with overwrought music. But it’s Ennio Morricone, so not as bad as you might expect.
I would love to see a modern re-make of this film, it could really develop the ethical issues absent in the 1970s context.