Justin takes a look back at a long-lost gialli from the director of THE FIFTH CORD…
FOOTPRINTS ON THE MOON is the type of giallo that fits more neatly into the psychological thriller mould, rather than the stalk-and-slash/black glove killer variety, where their motive is usually an inheritance or just plain insanity. The film places you inside the main character’s head, and asks: Is the paranoia all a sign of their madness, or is it all really happening?
FOOTPRINTS ON THE MOON tries to keep us in suspense about how our heroine will end up, and it all but fails at this. Conversely, what saves the film, and why the viewer is drawn into to watching, is down to the direction, cinematography, music, atmosphere, mood, and the way these elements are brought together.
Alice Cespi (Florinda Balkan) is translator who types notes for various scientists. She lives alone in a sleek, sparse, but modern apartment. When we are introduced to her she gets up, changes the date on her cube-shaped calendar, showers, makes coffee and gets to work typing up notes for the current scientist she is assigned to. She then picks up a friend from the airport on the way to work. While driving with her friend, Alice tells her about the recurring dreams she has been having concerning a man left on the moon by his fellow astronauts. She seems to think it was a film she saw a long time ago.
After she drops her friend off, that is the last we see of that character. She existed solely so Alice could relay the exposition about her dreams to someone. Alice then proceeds to the office to deliver the notes, where the secretary is quite short with her; telling her the other translator had taken over for her and already turned in the notes. It is then revealed that Alice has been gone for three days, yet she has no recollection of this and thinks it’s just the next day.
She refuses to believe it until the secretary points to the wall calendar to prove it. Alice then leaves, with the future of her job in question. She has lunch with another of her friends, Mary (Evelyn Stewart), who just like the previous friend is pretty much there as a sounding board. While talking with Mary Alice uncovers more memories of when she was at the conference three days prior, translating the speaker’s language into English into a recorder: it’s here that she undergoes a claustrophobic breakdown and runs out of one of the many recording booths overlooking the auditorium and the science complex.
Alice returns home and meets her maid, who asks about a grey dress that needs to be taken to the cleaners. They look through the closet, but there is no grey dress to be found: however, there is a yellow dress with a small spot of blood that neither of them remembers seeing before.
That night, she tries to go to sleep and envisions more black and white/sepia-toned scenes of Klaus Kinski as Dr. Blackmann, who it is revealed is running an experiment of some sort involving the abandoned astronaut, using extreme condtions to test emotional endurance, panic, and fear.
Alice wakes up from the nightmare and takes a tranquilizer, then brings out the ripped photo she found in her kitchen trash bin that morning. (Apparently, the maid didn’t feel like emptying it that day.) The photo is torn in four pieces that when put together show the exterior of a beautiful luxury hotel.
She decides to go there and packs her bags (including the yellow dress). She reaches the vacation island of Gambra and some of the people even recognize her, even though she insists this is the first time she has ever been there. It is around this point where we get the feeling of “been there, seen that.”
Alice talks with a few people around the hotel and beach resort, including little Paula (played by Nicoletta Elmi, ubiquitous child star of ‘70s Italian horror) who, when Alice introduces herself, claims that they have met before and Nicole is her real name.
Later , Paula says that she was mistaken, as Nicole has long red hair and is mean and unpleasant. Alice also talks to a older woman on the beach who might remember her and how Alice was frightened by the barely visible silhouette of a man in the distance where the woods meet the beach, not moving just watching her.
People give Alice tidbits of information before clamming up – they then later shed a bit more light on what she did or said those three days ago. Then there is the character of Peter, whom Alice had met previously when she first stepped off the ferry. Are his intentions good, or is he a part of her troubles? I won’t say, other than the resolution of his storyline ends in yet another cliche.
The ‘mysterious’ items in the film (i.e., the yellow dress, the yellow shoes, the long red wig, the gold comb), while they may add credence to the ‘doppleganger’ theory, are just as quickly dispersed of as the idea of a doppleganger in general, because for all I could see there was very little emotional difference between Alice and Nicole.
Alice is strident at times, unsympathetic, cold (especially with Peter), to down right hysterical when yanking on poor Nicole’s arm when she refuses to answer a question.
Balkan, while a good actress in certain roles, was miscast for this film – the part needed someone with the ability to display the emotional and mental turmoil Alice goes through with only a facial expression or gesture. Actresses that may have provided a better performance would have been Anita Strindberg, or perhaps Rosella Falk.
The film’s saving grace are its visuals, with the compositions and lighting being superb. The island is largely desolate, which just adds to the general isolation and creepiness.
In an exterior shot, where Peter has just dropped Alice off outside the hotel, the sky is a very dark blue. Night is almost here. We immediately cut to the interior of the hotel. Our view is from behind the front desk where an extremely bright round orange light dominates most of the left part of the screen, with the manager in the mid-ground and Alice in the back at the counter. This demonstrates not only the ability to contrast light and dark tones, but also a knowledge of colors, as well as the planes or layers you can use with the depth of field.
A similar image is when Alice is in her hotel room changing her clothes: in the extreme foreground we have another round light, glowing a yellowish orange. In the middle is the bed and standing behind the bed, lined up with the light, with her face half blocked is Alice.
The rest of the hotel is also lit beautifully, including the long, almost never ending corridors, and the immense dining room. The beach has a grey gloomy sky in a few scenes, which again contributes to a pervading sense of foreboding. Then there is Peter’s house, with an amazing stained glass window of a crane, light glowing through every multi-colored piece.
The very end of FOOTPRINTS ON THE MOON comes so far out of left field that it is not so much that it does not fit with what story they trying to to tell, but rather someone said, “Okay, we have to end this thing. Still got those space suits?” It is just plain goofy, and I forgive a lot when it comes to Italian genre cinema. But not this.
Ultimately, I’d recommend spending your money on a copy of THE FIFTH CORD by the same director and cinematographer, as FOOTPRINTS ON THE MOON is recommended only for gialli completists, fans of Luigi Bazzoi, and fans of Vittorio Storaro.