Here at HUM we’re shakin’ things up and takin’ a night off from gigs in favour of an indie film. Stepping out of the sticky-floored band room and into the backend of Bar 303 (admittedly, also a band room), we caught the first-ever screening of the Italian horror short film, Vittima. Decorated with dark velvet drapes, ex-Astor Theatre seats and a makeshift digital projector, the space was suitably reconfigured into a cinema to show the year-long project that’s been filmed in Yarraville and contributed to by many music makers and artists that make up the Melbourne Underground.
A direct translation of the Italian word for victim, Vittima acts to explore the ever-present anxieties and unsettling trauma generated by living life under the thumb of another. Co-written by Georgia Hogge and Cole Smith, this Melbourne-made love-letter to 70’s Giallo cinema contrasts the bleak reality of Vittoria’s (Carlotta Migliolo) agoraphobia against the stylised terror that pervades her dreams. Smith’s 18-minute directorial debut is sharply shot and supported by a surreal score (featuring tracks from Shelby Winton, Tom Hueston, Brenton Lowes) that revitalises the cult Italian horror genre with a carefully creative representation of psychological disarray whilst remaining faithfully theatrical and mysterious.
All set within a single house, Vittoria wades through the day with only the hope of human contact from Dr Alessio Morandi (Matthew da Via) to spur her on. Apprehensive of the outside world and with nobody else around, she dotes over these brief instances of interaction, even though they occur over the phone. However, it soon becomes clear that the domineering Morandi only inflames her anxiety, speaking as if to a caged animal and taunting her to come to him. The relentless reminder of her inability to do so only tightens his hold over her. While Vittoria writes songs for Morandi and sings to him, she is only ever hung up on before she can finish her ballads.
These depressive scenes during the day are elevated to more heightened and stylised dream sequences during the night. Haunting blue and red glows give a new and unsettling life to the corridors of the house (via lighting technician Audrey Pfeiffer) whilst a mechanically ambient soundtrack also adds to the eeriness. Vittoria too transforms within her dreams, befitted with more elegant dresses and elaborate makeup. However, like in the real world, she remains taunted and haunted, albeit by a mysterious Man In Black. Grappling with experiences within her dreams that intertwine and foreshadow events in the real world, Vittoria’s state of anxiety is unsettlingly recreated and owes much of this unease to the mystery and motives surrounding the insidiously looming figure clad in black.
With the film rooted in Giallo cinema, a stylised 70s Italian horror genre made noteworthy for its dramatization, intense colours and gruesome murders, it’s within these dream sequences that Vittima is at its unnerving best for utilising these elements. Like the ‘Red Room’ from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, the interactions and occurrences here are strange and cryptic, evoking nightmarish surrealism. They offer a way of seeing into the turmoil plaguing Vittoria from both internal and external forces. One particularly well-cut scene (edited by Cade Wroblewski) smashes fantasy into reality and effectively expresses what she means when saying, “Inside is scary but outside is scarier”.
After committing to a deadly covenant with the Man In Black, Vittoria realises the doom ready to greet her when she wakes. Taking up her knife and black gloves, symbols common to Giallo pictures, she is forced into action in order to save herself. Though she no longer bears the burden of being the victim, she is driven to a state devoid of moral motives, making her an anti-archetypal heroine by the time Windhand’s ‘Sparrow’ closes out the arresting final scene.
Photos from the Premiere.
An impactful and unsettling story, Vittima creates enough space for audiences to derive their own insights. A key cog to any Giallo film is mystery and with Vittima being reverentially rooted in the genre, there’s the sense that the canvas and colours are given to the viewer to paint their own experiences onto. However, beneath this and the suspense, technical clarity and stunning artistic style is an unexpectedly powerful demonstration of what it means to be the victim of one’s own subconscious as much as it does someone else.