Baba Yaga (1973)


Baba Yaga is about a witch, but not about one living in a forest in a mobile house walking on chicken feet.  The movie is based on an erotic comic book series called Valentina by Guido Crepax and Corrado Farina, being a fan, decided to bring it to life.  Unfortunately, what happened is the producers and the studio decided to hack his film to bits and re-edit it, cutting out some of the erotic parts and omitting entire scenes all together.

This is the version of the movie I saw, under the title Kiss Me, Kill Me, although Farina has sinced gained control of the film and released the version he made.  Even as a victim to studio tampering it remains and interesting, if flawed, supernatural movie that somehow holds together despite the dreamlike quality of the narrative.

Valentina (Isabelle de Funès) is a photographer living in Milan.  One night on her way home she sees a dog in the road and, when a car comes barreling out of nowhere, she rescues the dog.  The car happens to be driven by a woman who calls herself Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker).  She takes a clamp off of one of Valentina's garters and states that she will visit her, which she does after a photo session the next day.  At that time she seems to do something strange with Valentina's camera.  Soon whatever she photographs breaks, and people are wounded or die. 

Enthralled with the woman Valentina visits her house and, after taking some pictures, is gifted a strange bondage-clad doll named Annette for protection.  The doll, however, has a life of its own, transforming into a living woman (Ely Galleani) at Baba Yaga's whim.  In an effort to resist the witch's pull Valentina confides her sometime-boyfriend Arno (George Eastman) who tries to help her once he can no longer deny something strange is going on. 

Although Carroll Baker is first-billed Isabelle de Funès is the focal point.  Even through the dubbing her performance stands out, alternating between frightened and aroused, sometimes within the same scene.  When not dealing with her witch problem she has an easy-going relationship with almost everyone else and is quite believable playing a photographer.  George Eastman gets a significant role as Arno and he and de Funès have good chemistry.  The only lackluster one is Baker, who doesn't do much other than talk and threaten.

The mystery portions of the movie work as do most of the more surreal and supernatural parts.  The one thing that unfortunately doesn't work is that the film, though based on erotic material and containing quite a bit of nudity, fails to be erotic itself.  Corrado Farina is artful in his direction, using animation and still prints as well as strange locations, but whenever it is time for something sexy to happen his desire to make art pretty much gets in the way.  

Still, Baba Yaga is a surprisingly good film from one of the lesser-known directors, and at some time I need to check out the version he meant for everyone to see.  I don't expect it to be any more grounded than the original but it is always good to take time to appreciate what the artist intended.  

Baba Yaga (1973)
Time: 89 minutes
Starring: Isabelle de Funès, Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Ely Galleani
Director: Corrado Farina

 

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