La orca (1976)

Directed by Luchino Visconti’s nephew, Eriprando Visconti, 1976’s La Orca stars pretty blonde Rena Niehaus as Alice, the stepdaughter of a wealthy bourgeoisie type (Gabriele Ferzetti) from northern Italy who is kidnapped by a trio of hoodlums (Michele Placido, Flavio Bucci, Bruno Corazzari) from the south of the country and held for ransom. The abduct her, drug her and bind her to a bed in a dirty room out in the sticks and wait for her parents to pay them off, hoping it’ll happen before the cops get in the way.

The youngest of the kidnappers, Michele (Placido), starts to take a liking to her and as her parents don’t seem to be ponying up the ransom money anytime soon, once she accidently sees him with his mask off, he figures he might as well get to know her a little bit. Once this is set into motion, they strike up a strange and fairly sexual relationship – highlighted by a creepy scene in which he takes advantage of her while she’s drugged out of her mind – but things aren’t going quite as swimmingly for Michele as he believes them to be and this is a story that can only end badly.

An interesting mix of your standard kidnapping/ransom plot mixed up with Patty Hearst inspired twists and a liberal dose of left leaning politics, Visconti’s La Orca is a well made mix of exploitative kicks and arthouse sensibility. While it’s directed with a bit of style, the minimalist locations would try to trick you otherwise and the bulk of the film takes place in one dirty, grubby room which gives large portions of the film a stagey feeling. Some flourishes stand out though, particularly a scene in which Michele imagines himself on a yacht where he approaches Alice, who he’s just starting to become fixated on, who is dressed in something that looks like it was left over from Pasolini’s Medea.

Performance wise, it’s Rena Niehaus and Michele Placido that do all of the heavy lifting here, which is interesting as the liners point that out that the former didn’t even speak Italian when the movie was being made, which left to some difficulty here and there. Regardless, she’s convincing in her role and her back and forth with Placido, also a strong performer, is far more believable than it probably has any right to be under the circumstances. It’s fun to see the more recognizable Flavio Bucci and Bruno Corazzari pop up here but outside of the early kidnapping scene and a fairly daft subplot involving Bucci and an affair he’s having but it adds very little to the story outside of allowing for some extra sex.

Given that Italy was inundated with a rash of kidnapping and ransom cases during the tumultuous political upheaval occurring in the country during the seventies, this film would have been quite topical when it first came out. Visconti would get Rena Niehaus back for a reportedly fairly salacious sequel entitled Oedipus Orca less than a year later which has yet to see an English friendly home video release.

An interesting mix of thriller and exploitation film elements with political class war ideologies, La Orca is well made and well acted and ultimately well worth seeing. Camera Obscura have once again rolled out the red carpet, offering up the film in excellent condition and with some great extras that offer some very valuable context.