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What Have You Done to Solange?

Arrow Video // R // December 15, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 21, 2015 | E-mail the Author
A tiny rowboat drifts along the banks of the Thames one idyllic afternoon, its two young lovers holding hands and nuzzling all the while. As their kisses become more frantic and his hands wander down towards the buttons on her shirt, she spots a glint just off in the distance. A knife? Though it's too draped in shadow for her to identify the assailant or his victim, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó) is dead certain she's just witnessed a murder.

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Enrico (Fabio Testi) shrugs it off, more perturbed by the mood getting killed than by whatever it is Elizabeth thinks she's seen. It's just that upon returning home, a report on the radio announces that a body has been found, precisely where that gleaming blade had caught his lover's eye. Enrico feels compelled to join the passersby in gawking at the crime scene on his way to the Catholic academy where he teaches Italian. It's at this school that the authorities are waiting, distributing among the staff grisly photos of a young girl whose killer left a long knife stabbed through her genitals. A startled Enrico identifies her as a student of his. He can't bring himself to mention what Elizabeth had witnessed on the Thames, however, as she too is one of Enrico's students. In clumsily attempting to cover up one indiscretion, Enrico soon finds himself suspected of something far worse.

Those who haven't before seen Massimo Dallamano's seminal 1972 giallo have probably noticed that the name Solange didn't exactly come up in any of that. It's a daring choice to not so much as mention a titular character until the final half hour of a film, and she doesn't even step foot in front of the camera for another ten minutes after that. Then again, What Have You Done to Solange? repeatedly unleashes one bold maneuver after another. This is a film that incorporates so many of the staples of the giallo -- a largely unseen killer in black leather gloves, a series of murders gruesome beyond description, an investigation by an unassuming figure thrust in the middle -- and yet it shatters as many conventions as its embraces. Much like the American slashers these films would later inspire, there tends to be a certain theatricality to the murders in excuse to showcase dazzling visuals and a demented imagination. The murders in What Have You Done to Solange? instead have little interest in suspenseful stalking and slashing. They're swift, brief, and brutal. Even after forty years, the sight of a teenaged girl about to be raped with a gleaming blade remains exceptionally disturbing. Enrico is cheating on his wife with a teenaged girl under his tutelage, and he's generally content to exploit and disregard both of them. This is not a character that's easily embraced, and yet he's the closest thing the film has to a hero. What Have You Done to Solange? makes the intriguing decision to keep its audience and central characters alike at arm's length from most of the victims. This is entirely deliberate; we're not meant to truly know who they are or what they mean to one another, at least not yet.

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What Have You Done to Solange? lends itself to all sorts of thoughtful analyses, such as the innocence -- both real and imagined -- of childhood and what the psychopath's genital mutilations signify. Seemingly playful, carefree imagery early on is recast in a far darker light when replayed later in the film. It's more heavily oriented around characters and the relationships connecting them than gialli often are. The atmosphere is even darker and more intense as well, shying away from the oddball comic relief that creeps into so many of Argento's films from this era. What Have You Done to Solange? is a serious, artful film in so many ways, and yet it's also unrepentantly teeming with sleaze: multiple shower scenes (admittedly furthering themes of the seduction of the innocent, perception, and voyeurism), graphic imagery of the girls stripped bare and stabbed through their genitals, and one key plot point that would've raised a great many eyebrows in Italy back in 1972. Even its less successful aspects wind up contributing to its charm, such as its uneven attempts at redeeming Enrico that demand a hell of a lot of disbelief be suspended, that borderline-everyone at a Catholic school (!) shrugs off a teacher engaged in an affair with a student, and someone who's repeatedly misled the police somehow being granted unlimited access to every aspect of the investigation.

If you're intrigued by its themes of societal perceptions of childhood innocence, then What Have You Done to Solange? delivers. If you're aching for a grim, serious murder/mystery, then What Have You Done to Solange? delivers. If you're just keeping your fingers crossed for sticky, sordid exploitation, then What Have You Done to Solange? delivers. How many other films could I possibly say all of that about? Highly Recommended.

The Arrow Films logo in the corner is really all the review you need. In keeping with the label's consistently stunning release slate over the past year, this brand new 2K restoration of What Have You Done to Solange? is absolute perfection. Masterfully encoded and devoid of any excessive digital manipulation, the image is never anything less than filmic from its first frame to the last. The staggering level of fine detail on display here repeatedly left my jaw agape, and its colors look marvelous as well. This presentation is also free of any wear or damage of note. I continue to be awestruck that Arrow can be so prolific while maintaining this level of quality, and even with as high as my expectations were going in, What Have You Done to Solange? readily eclipsed them.

The AVC encode for What Have You Done to Solange? spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and the film is presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This combo pack release also features an anamorphic widescreen DVD.

Actor Fabio Testi and producer Fulvio Lucisano make it a point to mention in the extras that What Have You Done to Solange? was performed in English. The idea was that even though all of the dialogue would be recorded in post-production, English lip movements would make for a seamless English dub. Regardless of what the intent was and how effective it even wound up being -- actress Karin Baal tells an entirely different story in her interview -- all of this is to say that What Have You Done to Solange?'s English dub is as valid an option as any. Personally, I found myself gravitating towards the Italian soundtrack, even though it was similarly looped after the fact. Part of this is a preference for those performances, but it's also a better sounding track to my ears. The English dub is meeker, more dated, and considerably more sibilant. The Italian dialogue, meanwhile, is remarkably forceful and doesn't exhibit nearly as much strain. I'm thrilled with the fidelity overall: clean, clear, and wonderfully full-bodied. For those scattered few out there with constant image height projection rigs, it's worth noting that the optional subtitles for What Have You Done to Solange? never spill over into the letterboxing bars. The Italian audio is backed by properly translated subtitles as well rather than a transcription of the English dub. If you do require SDH subtitles for the English audio, however, those have been provided too.

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Both the English and Italian tracks are presented in 24-bit, monaural DTS-HD Master Audio. A commentary track has also been included, and I'll touch on that in just a moment.

  • Interviews (46 min.; mix of HD and SD): The first of these extras is an interview with actress Karin Baal conducted just this past October. Its title, "What Have You Done to Decency?", sums it all up well enough. Baal loathes What Have You Done to Solange?, groaning about its gaping plot holes and its sordid, sleazy nature from which she did her damndest to protect herself. For thirteen minutes straight, she's either rolling her eyes at the movie, recapping the plot, or snarking about Testi just randomly, silently moving his lips rather than make any effort to speak in English. Her all-consuming revulsion is pretty amusing, but the interview overall is not as substantial as I thought it'd be.

    Baal's interview is the only of the three interviews to be presented in high definition. The other two date back to 2006, including a conversation with her on-screen husband, Fabio Testi. Clocking in at twenty-one minutes in length, "First Action Hero" tackles the entirety of Testi's career in front of the camera, transitioning from a stuntman to one of Italy's most sought-after leading men, working under the likes of Enzo Castellari, Sergio Sollima, Lucio Fulci, and Stelvio Massi. He speaks about a great number of the films he'd made, spanning most every conceivable genre, among them -- of course! -- What Have You Done to Solange? Testi speaks more about the international nature of the production than anything else. It's a charming, enthusiastic, and, sure, self-congratulatory conversation that's well-worth setting aside the time to watch.

    The third and final conversation is with "Old School Producer" Fulvio Lucisano, who devotes eleven minutes to most everything you'd be curious to hear about the production of What Have You Done to Solange?: Dallamano's demeanor on and off the set, lining up the cast, Joe D'Amato's accomplished cinematography, the score by Ennio Morricone, the film's struggles with the rating board, and its worldwide success. I also appreciate some of the color about what a profoundly different era this was, such as how meals weren't catered, with the cast and crew instead expected to bring sandwiches from home.
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  • Innocence Lost (29 min.; HD): The centerpiece of this set's extras is a visual essay by giallo expert Michael Mackenzie, analyzing What Have You Done to Solange? and the two other films in the "Schoolgirls in Peril" trilogy. Mackenzie takes care to place the key elements of these films in the context of gialli as a whole, including the infrequent representation of children and the rather common use of priests as killers. His discussion of What Have You Done to Solange? is incisive and inspired, addressing the separate reality these girls have created for themselves and how the audience is, much like some of the adults in the film, outsiders looking in. From there, he compares and contrasts Solange with the more sordid, poliziotteschi-inspired What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and the generally dreadful Rings of Fear. I can't possibly say enough good things about "Innocence Lost", which is scholarly, enlightening, and propelled by a sincere passion for the genre. Essential viewing.

  • Audio Commentary: I also immensely enjoyed this commentary track with film critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman, both of whom adore the film despite (because of?) some of its stranger tendencies. They particularly delight in the geography of London presented here that bears no resemblance whatsoever to reality, the film's lack of awareness of the sexual revolution and the legality of certain things in the UK, and the perception of England when filtered through the eyes of foreigners. Another frequent topic of conversation is how What Have You Done to Solange? breaks away from certain defining aspects of the giallo film, from a less-than-operatic denouement to the way in which the bad girls really don't get all that much screentime. Their far more informed perspective of genre cinema the world over is greatly appreciated, particularly details about the influence of German crimi films as well as Cristina Galb√≥'s star power prompting a 70mm blowup of What Have You Done to Solange? in Spain. As informative and insightful as this commentary so often is, Newman and Jones' excitement speaking about the film is absolutely infectious in its own right. Thanks to this exceptionally fun track, I'll also be keeping a closer eye out for bottles of J&B the next time I put on a giallo.

  • Trailer (3 min.; SD): Rounding out the extras is an English language trailer in standard definition.

The extras for What Have You Done to Solange? extend beyond what's included on the disc itself: reversible cover art, an anamorphic widescreen DVD, and a collectors' booklet that treads unexpected ground. Rather than the more traditional sorts of liner notes, this booklet instead offers an essay about Ennio Morricone's giallo scores and a lengthy interview encompassing the entirety of Camille Keaton's career.

The Final Word
If anyone's ever compiled an all-time greatest gialli list without What Have You Done to Solange? ranking near the very top, I've never come across it. Part of the fascination is that it embraces so much of what has come to define the genre -- an amateur sleuth, sticky sexuality, an unseen killer in black leather gloves -- without ever becoming trapped by them. What Have You Done to Solange? unfolds at a pace more deliberate than these films are often allowed, and its central focus isn't placed squarely on the visceral imagery of the murders themselves. This is a movie substantial and thoughtfully crafted enough to warrant genuine critical analysis, yet it's also unapologetically sleazy. In other words, I love the hell out of What Have You Done to Solange?, and judging by the first-rate treatment that Arrow Films has lavished upon it on Blu-ray, I'm clearly not the only one. Highly Recommended.
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