DVD Review: The Bloodstained Butterfly

Duccio Tessari's 1971 film The Bloodstained Butterfly opens with scrolling text that paraphrases Kuki Shūzō's A Philosopher's Poetry and Poetics, stating that the present only exists in the shadow of the past and future. By twisting time through a combination of superb editing and the judicious withholding of crucial information, The Bloodstained Butterfly creates a labyrinthine world in which truth is frustratingly elusive and meaning is reflected, distorted and decontextualized out of existence.

The film's plot centres around the identity of a young woman's killer: prime suspect is Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia), a TV personality who is tied to the crime by an overwhelming catalogue of forensic evidence. Tessari's skill is to keep the audience guessing with editing that gives the impression of a serpentine plot, but which may actually be deceptively straightforward, if only for that seemingly unattainable context. In a genre known for favouring visual and thematic gratuity over narrative coherence, this is no mean feat, but equally, The Bloodstained Butterfly's visual flair is not to be overlooked. Uncommonly tasteful compositions abound. A shot of a post-coital couple, for example, viewed through a rain-smeared window pane gestures towards the voyeuristic without engaging the audience itself in the act of voyeurism.

The Bloodstained Butterfly's most immediate concern is that regardless of the identity of the killer, all of its male characters are in some way villains in the ways that they seek to dominate and exploit women. The accused Alessandro's alibi is that he was allegedly having an affair at the time of the murder. Meanwhile, his defence lawyer, Giulio Cordaro, (Günther Stoll) when not engaged with having his own affair with Alessandro's wife, attempts to seduce and then sexually assaults Alessandro's teenage daughter, Sarah (Wendy d'Olive). Again, context is all: Alessandro's wife, Maria (Ida Galli), walks in on the assault, but from her perspective it appears consensual, throwing her into a jealous rage.

During Alessandro's court case, Giulio rubs his forehead in apparent concern for his client's inevitable guilty verdict, but in the context of Giulio and Maria's affair, in the shadow of the past and future, that concern looks decidedly more like relief. As The Bloodstained Butterfly nears its conclusion, all signs point to Giorgio as the perp. Tessari does finally reveal the killer's identity, but by this point, things have become so tangled that it hardly seems to matter. Tessari's masterstroke is that amongst the decontextualised web of deceit and betrayal, Francoise's murder seems all but inevitable, its trauma merely one moment amongst many.

Christopher Machell | @MagnificenTramp


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