TORMENT OF THE FLESH

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by Eddy Saller

grade: 7.5

Drawing heavily from American noir films, as well as from the successful French polar films, Torment of the Flesh takes its cue from a series of feature films produced in Austria from the immediate post-war period, in which for the first time – just as had happened in Italy with Neorealism – there was talk of poverty and of the numerous consequences – moral and material – that the war had had on the entire population.

A new “M”

“Women’s legs are ​compasses that roam​​ the ​earthly ​globe”, said the great François Truffaut. And it is precisely on numerous shots of women’s legs that Eddy Saller’s camera focuses in the opening of his Torment of the Flesh (original title: Geissel des Fleisches), where, in fact, women’s legs are considered almost as ‘cult objects’, capable of attracting the gaze of men, as well as arousing the instincts of criminals.

Every year, numerous rape murders take place in Vienna. It was precisely from these facts that Saller took his cue for an intriguing crime thriller with noir undertones that was totally innovative for the time – 1965, in fact – when the era of the Wiener Films officially came to an end and, for the first time, the ‘other face of Vienna’ was also being depicted in films. A Vienna that was very different from the idyllic images of costume balls or tender love stories born during a summer walk in the Grinzig hills.

Vienna serves as the perfect setting for the adventures of Alexander Jablonsky (played by Herbert Fux), a former sex offender with a long criminal record who is currently working as a pianist in a night club. Suddenly, a young dancer from the Opera House is strangled in the shower. Needless to say, Jablonsky is immediately suspected of the murder. But will this really be the case? Starting with a lengthy trial, during which the man’s defence lawyer will try in every way to prove his innocence, a long flashback retraces Jablonsky’s life, in parallel with the investigation into the murder.

Thus begins a series of intrigues and unexpected twists and turns, which – supported and emphasised by an agile camera and frenetic editing (the director’s long experience in the field of advertising is evident here) – successfully create a good crescendo of tension and suspense as the end approaches.

Drawing heavily from American noir films, as well as from the successful French polar films, Torment of the Flesh takes its cue from a series of feature films produced in Austria in the immediate post-war period, in which for the first time – just as had happened in Italy with Neorealism – poverty and the numerous consequences – both moral and material – that the war had had on the entire population were dealt with. Unlike the previous decade, however, Eddy Saller went further. And to a mise-en-scene that fully recalls the cinema of reality, he preferred a much more pronounced, almost revolutionary direction, complete with rather bloody moments and nude scenes recorded by the camera.

Nothing is concealed in front of the camera in Torment of the Flesh. And if this particular directorial approach – within which there is also a certain touch of irony – probably partly influenced the scandalous Die Verwundbaren, directed two years later by Leo Tichat, at the same time, in the year the film premiered on the big screen, immediately seemed like something new and innovative in national film industry. With numerous morally ambiguous and controversial elements within it. But that, of course, is another story.

Original title: Geissel des Fleisches
Directed by: Eddy Saller
Country/year: Austria / 1965
Running time: 83’
Genre: mistery, noir
Cast: Herbert Fux, Hermann Laforet, Hanns Obonya, Peter Janisch, Josef Loibl, Thomas Hörbiger, Hans Baldauf, Johannes Ferigo, Richard H. Lenau, Rudi Schippel, Edith Leyrer, Ingrid Malinka, Elisabeth Terval, Sieglinde Koch, Birgit Pawlik, Irene Hannek, Ingrid Schlemmer, Karin Schmidt, Paula Elges
Screenplay: Eddy Saller
Cinematography: Hanns König, Edgar Osterberger
Produced by: Commerz Film

Info: the page of Torment of the Flesh on iMDb; the page of Torment of the Flesh on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria