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Identikit November 11, 2022

DIRECTED BY

Giuseppe Patroni Griffi

STARRING

Elizabeth Taylor
Ian Bannen
Guido Mannari
Mona Washbourne
Luigi Squarzina
Maxence Mailfort
Andy Warhol

RATED

R

RELEASED IN

1974

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 45 Mins.

T

hree years have passed since Lise (Elizabeth Taylor) last visited Italy. As far as the seemingly few people in her life are concerned, her upcoming voyage is a leisure trip. But this actually is covertly a suicide mission. Draped in a garish rainbow-colored smock and carrying a barely packed suitcase, Lise is thinking not about all the sightseeing she’s going to do once she boards the plane but how she’s going to go

about finding a man there who will willingly kill her if she asks him to. Identikit (1974), co-written and directed by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, doesn’t attempt to pinpoint her motivations. It does, though, tell us early on that she will have succeeded — only about four days after touching down in the country — in accomplishing her lethal mission. There’s something mentioned about a recent breakdown. There’s talk later about being “homesick for her loneliness.” We get the idea: Lise is drowning in the kind of bottomless despair making her break apart, and she’s lost all her drive to find a productive solution. She’s ready for a conclusive one instead. 

 

We’re always kept at a bemused arm’s length in Identikit. The dialogue has all the ease of a ping-pong game where the balls are non-sequiturs. The drama mostly has Lise roving like an unhappy ghost around empty stores and meeting strange people and, at one point, just barely meeting a premature end when her bus narrowly misses a bomb chucked by terrorists. Featuring a random multi-part Andy Warhol cameo to add to the strangeness, Identikit leans into its bizarreness. It’s angling for a subtextual deepness I struggled to uncover. Yet it’s always entrancing, in keeping with the run of outlandish movies Taylor made in the late 1960s and early ‘70s — I’m thinking Boom! (1968), Secret Ceremony (1968), X, Y, & Zee (1972) — that often are classified as so-bad-they’re-good trying-to-be-artsy-fartsy duds that I find way more engaging and interesting than detractors eager to write things off merely as “bad” are. 
 

Lise’s inner life is hard to reach. But Taylor’s performance is so perfectly calibrated with the character’s dazed unhappiness and anxiety that we keep trying to grab hold of it anyway. (Taylor manages to sell an easy-to-laugh-at line like “when I diet I diet; when I orgasm I orgasm. I don’t mix the two”; she makes her character’s unpredictable explosions of anger feel not campy but right for someone coming undone and unworried about who the seams hit.) And as shot by Vittorio Storaro (1970’s The Conformist, 1979’s Apocalypse Now), the movie has a textural dreaminess that assures us the impenetrable oddness of everything isn’t accidental but calculated. 
 

Identikit’s not-quite-thereness became easier to swallow when I started looking at everything not as reality directly but, like maybe Agnès Varda’s Vagabond (1986) — another movie about a woman adrift and moving toward death — a composite of memories from those who briefly ran into Lise, easily identifiable from her gaudy clothes and fitful temper. Like the film, she’s remote but unforgettable, a run-in sure to leave you bewildered but fascinated. B+