First, a contradiction: deafening Ennio Morricone music screams in over the title card. A promise of quiet immediately dashed, the flippant tone established at the outset. And then: shirtless Franco Nero tied to a chair in a modernist flat, the colors and lines à la Mondrian, the gentle torture courtesy of a prowling Vanessa Redgrave. So begins Elio Petri’s caustic 1968 thriller, with Nero’s frustrated artist already under attack by the forces of femininity and commerce, both embodied and entwined in Redgrave’s bottom-line gallery agent, Flavia. Naturally, he’s fantasizing about killing her.
The opening fever-dream awakens to a calmer register just briefly enough to sketch out the basics. Nero’s Leonardo needs some peace to get his work back on track so Flavia can keep the upper-crust buyers in Milan and New York flush with fresh product. A country retreat is in order. But the first villa comes pre-equipped with an exhibition and the accompanying hangers-on intent on a good deal (“I admire your work…and it’s a good investment”). A second villa must be acquired if anything is to be done, though the murder of the town’s “nympho” countess 25 years prior on the same grounds proves a more supernatural hindrance to the artistic process.