Catholic school girls rule. Their lives being shortened regardless, they rule.
When a killer, disguised as a priest, starts murdering girls from a British private school, a philander Italian teacher quickly becomes the prime suspect. But as the bodycount rises, things become more and more complicated and a mystery is waiting to be unraveled.
I just realized that What Have They Done To Solange? is the first full-blooded Giallo film featured on this site. Still, I feel reluctant using up too much space in this review, elaborating on the characteristics of this specific genre. Maybe someday, someone on here could devote a special feature on the whole Giallo phenomena. But in the meantime, for the laymen amongst you, this Wikipedia article is as good a place to start as any. Now on with the show…
When you ask any Giallo fan to give his top ten favorite – and also ‘best of’ – movies in this genre, then you’ll most likely find Solange ranking high up there. Yet for some reason, if you’re about to watch your first Giallo, Solange might not necessarily be the best choice to start with. Solange is a Giallo of the more refined kind, preferably granted a more serious approach upon viewing. All its elements – from plot over dialogues to the music and killings – are more thoughtfully balanced out than your average entry in this genre. For lack of a better word, I dare even say Solange is a more intelligent Giallo film, that does not allow istelf to be fooled by its own convoluted plot. Its stylish trademarks belong to the better efforts in the genre and you’ll have to search hard to find a Giallo that packs a better/harder punch during the films denouement.
Coincidentally, Solange was one of the first gialli I ever saw, long before I knew what the genre stood for. It took me three viewings and a lot of other gialli to finally be able to estimate the film at its true value. After my first viewing, several years went by and by the time I rewatched it, I honestly couldn’t remember how the plot went like. About the only thing I could recall, was the impact those final scenes left on me and how I liked the atmosphere. The second viewing, some years ago, revealed a whole new film to me. An even better one. But strangely enough, when going into the film a third time at last month’s Offscreen Film Festival (where they screened an uncut 35mm print baring the title), I found myself yet again to have forgotten about many plot details. All this to indicate the script’s complexity. Solange does get better with repeated viewings and you can still enjoy it as a lot of aspects to the mystery plot can be forgotten and rediscovered. Also to illustrate that you could perhaps pick a film a bit more easy-going in the plot department to first get acquainted with the style, feel and characteristics of the Giallo genre. Do as you please, choose wise and now on with the story.
When Solange introduces its protagonist, you’re not quite sure what to think of him. In the dreamlike opening-scene (shining with a genuine seventies aura) we see Enrico”Henry”Rosseni (Fabio Testi) courting the beautiful – and clearly underaged – Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó) in a little boat on the river Thames. Enrico is obviously out to have sex with Elizabeth, plain and simple, though she holds back. At this point, Elizabeth gets distracted by something happening on the river bank. What she actually witnessed, without fully realizing it herself, was the murder of a girl. Enrico, who saw nothing, dismisses her comments as a poor excuse to avoid having sex with him. That doesn’t seem a nice thing to say, now does it? The next scene reveals Enrico to be a married man, making Elizabeth and him secret lovers. This short dialogue-scene makes clear that Enrico is trapped in a loveless marriage with Herta (Karin Baal). But does that justify his horny attitude previously in the boat? Who is this Enrico guy…?
We soon learn he’s an Italian teacher at a private Victorian school, and much favored by all the girls too, as he’s attractive and gentle by nature. Turns out that Hilda, the girl murdered in the boat-scene, was a pupil of his. Enrico, having made the impulsive decision to return to the crime-scene after hearing about the murder on an early morning radio broadcast, will find himself the #1 suspect for the local athorities in less than no time. What’s notable about Enrico’s character drawing, is that the script does a succesful job in gradually making the viewer like and care about his character. Even his own wife, cold-hearted at first as she suspects him having an affair, comes around and genuinely offers to help him solve the mystery. Could charming Enrico Rosseni really have something to do with the mystery murders, or will he be the one solving them?
Of course the script makes you forget about this question, very early on in the movie even, by introducing several potential killers in the plot. Best of all things, is that we are presented to six of them, no less, all at the same time, when inspector Barth (Joachim Fuchsberger)attends the school to inform and inquire six teachers (even including Enrico’s wife Herta, who teaches German and Music) about the recent murder. It gets even better, as more potential suspects will occasionally pop up throughout the movie. And if you think guessing the identity of the killer is a hard thing to do, then you just wait until you finally discover the core of the mystery. It’s about as disturbing and jaw-dropping as any twist can get. Well, ‘twist’ might not be the right word, as it is more like a shocking revelation or profound last piece of the puzzle.
A stylish visual language is often expected in Giallo films, as is the case with Solange too. But the real surprise here is that Italian shlock & sleaze maestro Joe D’Amato was responsible for the cinematography. I vote in favor for director Massimo Dallamano, as I suspect it’s kudos to him D’Amato focussed only on his work as a cinematographer without personal interference regarding the delicate and explicit subject matter of the film. You see, Hilda Erickson (the first victim) was stabbed with a knife in her private parts. That’s the killer’s modus operandi. Apparantly that’s not a strange one in Italian cinema and Solange delivered pioneer’s work in this field – if I’m not mistaken – by portraying it, as similar scenes have been crafted (years later) by the likes of Lucio Fulci inand – as a more distasteful example – by Mario Landi, in his atrocious film . Now can you image what Solange would have looked like if D’Amato would have directed it? Instead, we now have the knife-killings filmed in a more stylish and less explicit manner. And that’s one of the many reasons why I respectfully place this film higher up the rankings. Solange also contains quite a bit of nudity coming from the young ladies, yet none of it – correct me if I’m wrong – comes of as sleazy or feels like overly gratuitous (Even the schoolgirls’ shower room scene has a purpose… twice).
Considered we’re dealing with an Italian production here, it’s a pleasant surprise to see that the acting and especially the dubbing is more than decent. Cristina Galbó gives a lively and likable performance as the young and gorgeous Elizabeth. Fabio Testi is very capable of carrying the film, although his (fake & dubbed?) Italian accent does come off slightly goofy at times. I’m interested in seeing more of him as an actor, and looking forward to see him in Fulci‘ssoon. Karin Baal delivers a fairly wooden & emotionless role, but I’ll just blame that on her character being German. And last but not least, experienced viewers might recognise Camille Keaton (known from the rape/revenge exploitation ‘classic’ Day of the Woman aka ), portraying a key character in Solange.
As always with English spoken Italian films from that era, the dialogues may come accross as artificial. Nevertheless, in Solange they’re of a much better quality than what you might expect. Or maybe I should put it differently: The things that come out of people’s mouths, are much more enjoyable. So is Enrico’s reply to his wife’s insinuations short, sweet and just too funny: “A suspicious wife is a very boring character”. An undeniable fact of life, I’d even say. And here’s one of the more original metaphors I’ve ever heard being used in everyday dialogues; again Herta is making insinuations about Enrico’s secret lovelife, saying “You’ve been wanting to tell me something for quite some time, circling around it like a vulture without ever quite getting up the courage to land”. Now that’s a way of putting things. Touché, Herta, touché!
Gorehounds will probably have no business watching Solange, as throughout the course of the film practically no blood is being spilled (at least not on screen). But make no mistake, the brutal nature of the murders and how they are staged and filmed, leave not much to the imagination. As I said before, they’re handled with the necessary style and subtlety, though some viewers will undoubtedly still find them too shocking, offensive or distasteful. Music lovers on the other hand, have an extra reason to watch this film as Ennio Morricone provided the film with yet another masterful score. Beautiful and charming as it may be, it balances out the other, more violent elements of the film with an odd counterweight, as well as blending together perfectly with various scenes, lifting the film to a higher level of artistry (the movie’s opening boat-scene already perfectly summarizes these characteristics). Solange was shot in and around London, making great use of locations. Some of them stand out and make certain scenes quite memorable, like the opening on the Thames, the private school building location and the picturesque House of the Murdered Dog in Spring (ain’t that a nice sounding Giallo title?)
And now for the two final questions that make this movie tick the way it does… Who is Solange and what exactly did happen to her? You won’t find out on this page. But one of the greatest things about this film, is that the name Solange doesn’t even pop up until the second half of the movie, after the one hour benchmark. By then the whole police investigation already lead to several dead ends. Only the last half hour focusses on finding out who Solange is or was and what happened to her, adding a new angle to the mystery. Also making this one of the most brilliantly plotted gialli ever made (thankful to Edgar Wallace’s source novel “The Clue of the New Pin”), albeit not particularly a film for people with a short attention span. So, to all Giallo fans, newbies and veterans alike: Cosa avete fatto a Solange? is heartily recommended and very essential viewing material.