Duccio Tessari’s 1971 film The Bloodstained Butterfly opens with scrolling text that paraphrases Kuki Shūzō’s A Philosopher’s Poetry and Poetics, stating that the present only exists in the shadow of the past and future. By twisting time through a combination of superb editing and the judicious withholding of crucial information, The Bloodstained Butterfly creates a labyrinthine world in which truth is frustratingly elusive and meaning is reflected, distorted and decontextualized out of existence.
The Bloodstained Butterfly’s most immediate concern is that regardless of the identity of the killer, all of its male characters are in some way villains in the ways that they seek to dominate and exploit women. The accused Alessandro’s alibi is that he was allegedly having an affair at the time of the murder. Meanwhile, his defence lawyer, Giulio Cordaro, (Günther Stoll) when not engaged with having his own affair with Alessandro’s wife, attempts to seduce and then sexually assaults Alessandro’s teenage daughter, Sarah (Wendy d’Olive). Again, context is all: Alessandro’s wife, Maria (Ida Galli), walks in on the assault, but from her perspective it appears consensual, throwing her into a jealous rage.
During Alessandro’s court case, Giulio rubs his forehead in apparent concern for his client’s inevitable guilty verdict, but in the context of Giulio and Maria’s affair, in the shadow of the past and future, that concern looks decidedly more like relief. As The Bloodstained Butterfly nears its conclusion, all signs point to Giorgio as the perp. Tessari does finally reveal the killer’s identity, but by this point, things have become so tangled that it hardly seems to matter. Tessari’s masterstroke is that amongst the decontextualised web of deceit and betrayal, Francoise’s murder seems all but inevitable, its trauma merely one moment amongst many.
Christopher Machell | @MagnificenTramp