DELIRIUM (RENATO POLSELLI, 1972)
aka Delirio Caldo
Delirium is Renato Polselli's 1972 feature that tells the tale of a psychiatrist who himself has serious sadistic tendencies. He also suffers a sort of depersonalization where he spends most of his days denying to himself that he is, indeed, psychotic. The film opens with Herbert (played by Polselli regular and former body-builder Mickey Hartigay) strangling a young girl after he picks her up from a bar. Once he arrives home the viewer becomes aware of the intense relationship that he and his wife, Marcia, (played by the always wonderful Rita Calderoni) endure-- Herbert is utterly impotent in the bedroom, having been unable to consummate his marriage with his wife who, regardless or circumstance, is utterly in love with him.
The rest of the film explores more murders that are being committed; some by Herbert out of pure sexual desire, and others by Marcia out of pure love for her husband, and out of the fear that she will lose him (it should be noted that this isn't particularly a spoiler; it's fairly obvious, and the reason that the film succeeds is due to this relationship). Along the way a voyeuristic park watchman gets pulled into the affairs, and Herbert believes he has a scapegoat.
What could have ended up a ridiculously "obvious" giallo is saved by Polselli's more than competent direction, and the subtleties of the story. At the heart of it all, what is normally described as "sleazy" and a "series of shock scenes," is actually an amazing love story. I should also point out, that for the purpose of this review, I am referring to the Italian edit of the film. The film itself exists in multiple versions; the American version is wrapped up in a sort of Vietnam War story that places all the action either as a dream of a veteran or as a direct result of the psychological stress--which, it should be noted, compared to the Italian version is sort of a cop out. There is also a French version available which I haven't seen, but from what I understand this version significantly ups the sleaze quotient.
Something that seems to be repeatedly overlooked in many of Polselli's brilliant films are their emotional intensity. In fact, Rita Calderoni and Mickey Hartigay's performances in this film somewhat resemble the performances of Isabelle Adjani and Sam Niell in Andzrej Zulawski's equally (if not more) successful 1981 film, Possession. The intensity of the performances in this film can seem, well, delirious and over-the-top if experienced with only a passing glance, but within the context of the extreme relationship that is confidently presented the actions and emotions are valid. Herbert is constantly battling with himself and his psycho-sexual desires, while Marcia is utterly dependent upon her impotent husband, and has severe reliance issues.
Near the end of the film these characters emotional states climax, and the film turns into an almost anarchic frenzy of desire and sadness. Marcia runs around the house screaming, unable to cope with the fact that her relationship with her husband is about to be severed, and Herbert tries unsuccessfully to stay in control (which perfectly echoes his sexual impotence), while also distancing himself from his wife and preparing to place the blame on her. The only thing that is briefly distracting in these final scenes is the somewhat random appearance of Marcia's sister, who suddenly also displays an intense dependency on her sister. Luckily the addition is only briefly jarring, as the intensity of the third characters emotional state helps to heighten the overall feel of the scene, and is at the same level as the previously displayed mania.
It is worth nothing Polselli's philosophical background when discussing the film, as the main driving forces behind each character seems to be a conflict with the self. In fact, the films climax almost shows a dissatisfaction with the philosophical mode of thought, because no matter how much these characters try to justify and analyze their actions, their intellect cannot surpass pure emotion, something that is common in contemporary Western thought.
Also, as in Polselli's later Reincarnation of Isabel, the use of music helps to heighten the emotional levels, helping to sustain the intensity. The editing of the film also occasionally echoes the chaotic nature of the individual, with many cuts that will begin with a fast pan before the actual cut occurs, which creates a sort of dizzying effect that no doubt is meant to emphasize the disorganized mind.
Watching the Italian cut of the film I was simply amazing at how successfully emotional the film was, and how deeply it was affecting me. The characterization is handled so well that the viewer can actually empathize with Herbert, who is decidedly the villain of the picture. It's also always very interesting to me when I experience these almost visceral reactions from films that are marginalized and passed off as sleaze or trash-- let it be known that the intense relationship between Herbert and Marzia affected me far more than any so called "romance" film ever has, because it contains something that most straight-laced romance, or even straight-laced drama films lack; an emotional intensity that is undeniably a human factor.