The Conspiracy of Torture (1969)


(4 stars out of 5)

The Conspiracy of Torture (1969) Directed by Lucio Fulci

Only someone as sensationalist, showy and suggestive as the flamboyant poet of the macabre Lucio Fulci could have engendered this scandalous historical drama with the picturesque stylization of the derogatory language of Italian exploitation cinema and made it so gratuitous and luscious. The Conspiracy of Torture, also known by the original Italian title Beatrice Cenci, is a tragic and garish period drama à la Fulci-esque, a juicy rendition of the sordid and grisly trial carried out by the theocratic power of Catholicism against the aristocratic Cenci family in post-Renaissance Rome. Fulci’s superficial reading of this story and the legends that proliferated as a result, chameleonically adapts to the baroque design of the lurid story with the eccentric exploitative architecture that the Italian director masters so well, thus crafting a novelistic bizarre nature that corresponds appropriately to the premature pretentious style of the multifaceted sixties phase in Fulci’s oeuvre. However, to say ”premature pretentious style” may be a rhetorical fallacy against Fulci, for just by the simple fact of not belonging to the director’s most recognized golden era, that argument emphasizing only the seemingly negative in comparison to his later great works falls into a gigantic paradox. Clearly, this is not Fulci at working on his favorite canvas, nor is it horror cinema that concentrates the ideals of the word or the genre, but the precocious stylism is so protruding that I would venture to say that this provocative, rowdy drama contains some of the most immaculate compositional schemes ever seen in Fulci’s filmography.

The Conspiracy of Torture brings together the characteristic and colorful features of a filmmaker who has dabbled in the miscellaneous ridiculousness of 60’s exploitation cinema, from the laugh-out-loud comedy to the epic violence of spaghetti westerns and even the hellish hyper-stylization of gialli, the variable vision that Fulci gives this film is legitimately its greatest quality. Already the master of irrational worlds and Italian formalism makes it evident that his cinematic tendencies are not married to narrative, something that would be a daily practice in his future film projects, here he reconfirms his obsessions with geometric visual effects and evocative surrealism as the primary line of his principles as an artist of the illogical, of the anti-narrative. The mesmerizing imagery of The Conspiracy of Torture is overpowering, experimenting with the aggressive gesture of a menacing, painterly beauty that perpetually lingers on the primordial, the narrative is sidelined.

In consequence of the aesthetic prominence, the story’s dramaturgy is frustratingly convoluted, told entirely with some of the most confusing and overlapping flashbacks I’ve ever seen. But of course, the sadistic enjoyment of this film comes purely from taste, if you’re willing to watch operatic violence and inquisitive sleaze orchestrated by one of the most proficient at it, then this obscene tragic tale is for you.

The Cenci family, one of the noble lineages of the 16th century, lives under the subjugation of its maximum patriarch, the despotic, inclement and nefarious Francesco Cenci, played with vulgar vehemence and terrifying authority by Georges Wilson. Tired of the abuse and savage authoritarianism, his children and wife conspire against the corrupt and incorrigible pillar of the family, and joining them with the help of one of the family’s faithful servants, the easily manipulated and intoxicated by love Olimpio, played by Tomas Milian, they carry out a stratagem to assassinate the Cenci patriarch. The attractive daughter of the tyrant Francesco, the devious and sybaritic Beatrice Cenci, and also the most vengeful and committed to taking the life of her cruel father, will be involved with the crossroads of her actions and their determinism in the face of the soulless condemning power of the Catholic Church. The ostentatiously brilliant Adrienne La Russa plays Beatrice in a powerful performance that reverberates with fury and indignation.

The mechanics of the narrative are set up with the rhetoric of analepsis, baffling and awkwardly structured, leaving a literary chaos that should not have worked at all. The sensationalist perspective of the themes and the deliberate exaggeration on Fulci’s part to make this historical drama functionally exploitative, disguises extraordinarily well the heavy imperfections originated in the brittle writing, achieving an articulate persuasion that is sustained with solid and autarchic aestheticism that only emphasizes, prioritizes and specifies with vigor and provocation the handsome horror of fatalism, it is like a crude and sacrilegious version of the Shakespearean tragedies.

Filmed with so many variations of zooms and grotesque depth of field that this review would be too short to mention them all and their pompous functions, although if there is one that deserves a mention, it is the imperious orchestration of crash zooms, making the most hyperbolic Italian cinema films of the time look like modest exercises in heterodox visual configurations. The Conspiracy of Torture relegates the ordinariness of a logical narrative to condense a spectacle of perversion and immorality to the formal rhythm of visual exaltation. The great Lucio Fulci was not wrong to mention that this was one of his favorite of the films he has made, it is unequivocally one of his best films of his most swinging period. Dark, scuzzy and nasty.


Matteo Bedon

Written by

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them. Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.

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