Old 08-27-2012, 05:18 PM
The designated Victim (1972)

The italian thriller genre of the seventies has spawned a lot more "distinct" films than the slasher-prototypes nowadays loosely labeled as "giallos". Not every genre film from that period is automatically exploitation in the sense of blood and nudity. As a big fan of this type of films I may speculate that the percentage of works that fullfill the exploitation label from what I´ve seen is only about 60%. The other 40% are movies like Footprints on the Moon, Death laid an Egg or today´s subject, The designated Victim.

A loose remake of Hitchcock´s "Strangers on a Train", the film tells the story of Stefano, whose plans of a bright future with his mistress are seriously screwed by his non-understanding wife. On a stroll with his mistress he runs into Count Mattheo, a decadent aristrocrat (when asked about his female company by Stefano he mentions that he sold her once, just for the experience) who offers him a deal, along with his friendship. Stefano is to kill Mattheo´s abusive brother in turns for Mattheo doing the same to his wife. That´s all you need to know about the plot and that´s also where any similarity to Hitchcock´s movie ends.

This is a very character-focused film, and in turn one that´s very dependent on it´s actors. Thomas Milan is a talented man and graced many great films but the real show is Pierre Clémenti - although I loathed his character on sight he won me over bigtime as the movie moves on, you really do BELIEVE this guy which made him creepy and unable to look away from. Milan sacrefices his scene-stealing presence a bit here but the story absolutely benefits from that. Stefano is not a hero-type, in fact he´s not a very respectable person at all, and I don´t even mean the cheating. When his wife disses him as a loser it´s kind of hard to argue. Milan also gets to sing the theme song by the way, which should have been on that Ulver 70s cover album.

As I said before, The designated Victim is not a trend-riding exploitation movie - the focus is characters and storytelling. There´s no graphic violence at all here and only the opening scene has a brief nude segment. There´s lots of homosexual undertones in the relationship between Stefano and Mattheo and the script handles it with class and credibility. The direction and camerawork is splendid taking full advantage of the venice locations and eye-imploding 70s interior decorations (how much psychedelic wallpaper can you take?). The only real issue is that it takes a real long time to unfold - this is not a movie to watch when you´re tired. If you take your time I´m sure the film´s tension will grap you by the throat at some point but it sure takes it´s time to do so. That´s not a big deal for me though.

The designated Victim is an emo-take on Hitchcock and I mean that in the nicest possible way. While Strangers on a Train and Hitchcock´s work in general is cold and calculating in the way it presents stuff this movie is the opposite. It´s a warmer, more emotional approach to the material and comes off as a movie completely it´s own. Recommended for fans of slow-burning thrillers big time. Check out the Shameless-DVD.
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