Even though it's far from a masterpiece and suffers from some pacing issues, Gran Bollito is a must-see for fans of serial killer-based horror films simply because of the unconventional tone it applies to tell the real life story of Leaonarda Cianciulli (Shelley Winters), a middle-aged Italian woman who killed three young women during the early days of the World War II. Not content with the killings themselves, she then proceeded to turn the women's body fat into bars of soap and their crushed bones into flour, which she used to make delicious cookies for her victims' friends.
The true story is demented and disturbing enough, so in order to transfer it to the big screen, one might be inclined to expect an over-the-top exploitation flick full of that crimson colored thick fake blood that Italian giallo filmmakers are so fond of. It's not hard to imagine a Dario Argento or a Lucio Fulci version of this story that smears the screen with tons of that gooey red stuff. However, the director of Gran Bollito is Mauro Bolognini, who was mostly known for steamy soft focus melodramas at the time of the film's release. As a genre rookie, Bolognini makes the wise choice of adapting his usual style and aesthetic, perfect for romance and drama, into horror, instead of trying to copy some of the most respected names in the genre at the time.
So this insane story ends up being told as if it's a run off the mill melodrama, complete with somber music, wistful performances, a melancholic soft focus look, and a languid pace that focuses on the drama between the characters instead of the blood and gore. This tonal inconsistency, obviously done on purpose, ends up being the key narrative element in turning Gran Bollito into an eerily disturbing and disorienting experience. It works as a unique horror film, simply because it's not treated as such.
Winters does what she did best in the 70s and chews the hell out of the scenery as Lea, who finally had a child after suffering from a dozen (Yes, a dozen) miscarriages and stillbirths. Obsessed with keeping her son alive at any cost, Lea finally loses her marbles after the son decides to go to war and begins to "sacrifice" his young lady friends as a desperate attempt to have the cosmic powers protect her offspring. Italian productions at the time used to hire a lot of international actors, have them say their lines in their native languages, and then dub the entire films into Italian. I wish that real audio of Winters' performance was kept somehow, since it's obvious that she's giving it her all during passionate scenes, yet the Italian woman in charge of dubbing her can't match her obvious on-screen intensity.
Bolognini mostly employs a contemporary look to his film, with one appropriately bizarre surrealist choice: The three women that Lea kills are all played by men in drag (One of them is an especially sexy Max Von Sydow). This fact is not made explicitly clear (How could it have been, aside from superimposed text that informs the audience that these cross-dressing men are actually supposed to be women in the story?), so the audience is asked to gradually come to terms with the film's absurd touch. This is an odd choice that adds a lot to the film's disorienting tone.
Gran Bollito's dream-like soft focus look is captured perfectly through Twilight Time's 1080p transfer. An attempt at creating clearer definition through extensive DNR would have been the wrong choice here, so it's commendable that they decided to preserve the soft look of the film.
The menu states that we're supposed to get a DTS-HD 1.0 mono track, but guess what? Here comes DTS-HD 2.0, which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine when it comes to correctly representing mono mixes. Apart from that bit of misrepresentation, the track is clean and has nice definition between the dialogue and the melancholy score.
Commentary by Film Historians Derek Botelho and David Del Valle: This commentary is very informative and full of insights into not only the film itself, but also on the real story it's based on.
We also get a Trailer.
Gran Bollito is far from a typical serial killer movie. Even though it might bore genre hounds and might be too weird for anyone expecting a straight melodrama, it's certainly an original and unique experience.