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Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Starring Edwige Fenech, Luigi Pistilli and Anita Strindberg. Directed by Sergio Martino

Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) is an alcoholic, sadistic and despicable has-been writer, whom has recently lost his mother, regularly abuses and humiliates his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) and engages in illicit relationships at any given opportunity. When one of his mistresses is found brutally murdered the suspicions of both the police and his wife fall on Oliviero whose problems are confounded by the arrival of Floriana (Edwige Fenech), his young and beautiful niece with an unclear agenda.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key Edwige Fenech Sergio Martino

If you’re familiar with Sergio Martino’s work, you might catch the reference to his earlier giallo offering, ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ in the title. Like most of Martino’s giallo movies, the story is awash with complexity and subtext. Despite this, ‘Your Vice’ lacks the oft-criticised ambiguity of many similar films. It’s still as outlandish as any other giallo. The head-shaking moments of absurdity pop-up with relative frequency. There’s the sleazy sex and the grip of violent intent throughout the movie. However, the twists from the standard format, subtle as they may be, elevate ‘Your Vice’ above many of its peers.

Your Vice is a Locked Room Sergio Martino 1971

In a subgenre of filmmaking famed for lacking characterisation, it is both welcome and unusual for each character to become progressively defined. Both their motivations and psychological state come under scrutiny. This aspect is as integral to the film as any other. Themes such as misogyny, sadomasochism, the treatment of sex as a weapon, voyeurism and most notably a trenchant concentration on the Oedipus-complex add substance and depth to the characters and story. With a nod to Edgar Allen Poe, even the motivations of an ominous cat fittingly named Satan become important as the events unfold.

The narrative moves at a slow, deliberate pace, perpetually ripening, twisting and turning. We’re led to believe one thing before it’s proven untrue. At times, ‘Your Vice’ even switches genres. All of this builds up to a rapid chain of events towards the end that seek to overturn everything we already know, leading to a mostly satisfying climax. Unfortunately, there is a sense that Martino is trying to be too clever, as once all the twists and turns are finished, the conclusion becomes somewhat predictable. On the one hand, you want to give Martino credit for not resorting to a ludicrous deus ex like many of his contemporaries, but on the other, you do miss the sense of shock.

‘Vice’ is a stylistic treat. Martino collaborates with cinematographer, Giancarlo Ferrando and composer Bruno Nicolai and the three ensure that the visual and audible elements of the film are near perfect. The beauty of the film is predominantly founded upon the malevolent aspects of the storyline. The chronic use of darkness and shadow help to create a mesmerising yet distinctly intimidating and alarming atmosphere. Giallo have never been traditional horror movies, but it’s easy to get a slight case of the jitters with this one. The tension and suspense bubbles over to boiling point several times.

Your Vice is a Locked Room 1972

Erratic camera work and quick splices of cruelty render the violence of the piece less morbidly delightful, but rather nauseating. Bloody aftermaths are displayed to full, gruesome effect. Sex is at its sleaziest; the few enchanting moments given a repugnant air. One particular stylistic flourish sees a quick insertion of the menacing cat’s eyes during scenes, becoming more frequent to the end and perhaps used symbolically to represent the mental breakdowns of the characters and the relationship breakdown between Oliviero and Irina. Furthermore, these quick flashes of menace coupled with several darkened sequences involving the snarling and vicious cat add a disorienting effect and engender yet more discomfort from the viewer. The subtle use of the soundtrack, which mostly comprises soft, unostentatiously elegant music blends with the visuals in a pleasing manner and helps to control the ambience unobtrusively.

The somewhat predictable conclusion is perhaps the most glaring shortcoming. Those who have seen Martino’s earlier giallo may regard one particular aspect of the end as indicative of being formulaic while those who recognise the principal influence for the story will be less surprised at the eventual outcome. These are minor complaints but worthy of note. ‘Vice’ could also be criticised for being a character-driven film that leaves several key questions unanswered. One could theorise as to why this is but perhaps the most likely explanation is that Martino wished for there to remain an element of mystery. Whether this is welcome or unwelcome will no doubt depend on the subjectivity of the audience. Criticisms aside, ‘Vice’ is mostly enjoyable film-making and certainly ranks amongst the genre’s elite. Sergio Martino once again excels.

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