Un bianco vestito per Marialé (A White Dress for Marial)

Un bianco vestito per Marialé (A White Dress for Marial) by Naomi Falk

Years after its 1972 release, Romano Scavolini referred to his film Un bianco vestito per Marialé (A White Dress for Marial) as one “which only deserves to be forgotten.” Any art appreciator might be loath to dig into an artwork equipped with the understanding that its creator would rather forget it, but Marialé can be celebrated for its successes as much as for its (sometimes failed) high pursuits.

The general tone of the film is set in its short opening scene, in which young Marialé is caught as bystander to her mother’s murder—caught in the arms of a lover and a fruit-and-carafe-of-wine afternoon picnic—by her father.

As a young adult, Marialé lives in a castle with her husband, Paolo, and butler. According to her, they’re poisoning her tea. According to them, it’s what’s best. Much to Paolo’s dismay, a gaggle of Marialé’s fashionable friends arrive at the castle’s gates and must be let in. She’s invited them for a weekend stay; she yearns to engage with beings of the world outside. Vibes are immediately askew once her friends come inside and start chatting—guest Gustavo is a racist misogynist, someone has let a snake loose in the house, Marialé has some kind of secret and long-running romantic relationship with the guest Massimo (played by icon Ivan Rassimov).

The evening becomes a proper bacchanal—Marialé introduces the guests to a dreamy labyrinth of costumed mannequins and they all play dress-up. Our haunted heroine wears the bloodstained dress of her deceased mother (the titular white dress). The table is set with bronze candelabras and red candles. Leaves and wine, a hunk of some kind of animal, grapes and apples, people speaking Latin.

At this point the murders start and the film becomes a giallo whodunnit, although I’ve seen critics argue about whether or not it qualifies as one. For me, a giallo film is less driven by elements of plot and more by a general feeling, but that begs a separate conversation.

The character development and subplots in Marialé don’t reach below the film’s surface, and the film’s ending is hilariously dramatic and overexplained in good giallo fashion. What it lacks in meaty fullness it makes up for in style, feeling, and overall artistry. Fiorenzo Carpi’s incredible score (conducted by Bruno Nicolai!) includes a recurring theme “Garden Party” that captures the sweet, autumnal, curiosity of the genre at-large (sometimes the best giallo tracks tend to remind me of sexy department store music). The rest of the score is equally masterful: dissonant, psychedelic, romantic, sleek, gothic, at moments even a little baroque. It’s one of the best! It’s very cool. The castle is styled somewhat haphazardly, fallen from grace, fit with 17th century crossbows, caskets, suits of armor (a great trope of giallo is mobilization of the death house’s tool in the demise of its characters). Marialé’s family heirlooms are hidden away in cavernous rooms. Sounds echo; surfaces are dusty. It feels like certain elements of the house are resistant to its inhabitants, thus generating less a feeling of grandeur than unease.

Director Scavolini is not as theatric with his scenebuilding than, say, Argento or Bava; his angles feel are character-driven, not very contrived (I like both approaches, to be clear). At the beginning of the film, Marialé calls her friends all “a bunch of sad, phony, cowardly, jealous, and crazy individuals. Just like everybody else. They just need the right excuse at the right moment. You’ll see.” Though the film fails to fully flesh the innerworkings of its characters relationships to one another, I think it showcases a general unhappiness, and although our heroine’s classification isn’t entirely wrong, it feels misdirected given the context of the film’s more tender moments. Scavolini has included one of the only good Sapphic love scenes in the genre, sometimes the film’s lovers get along, infrequently there is laughter in the midst of innocent play. We grow too familiar with the ups and downs of human life to really see our characters as monstrous cheaters or liars (although, wonderfully, Gustavo gets no mercy and is met by gruesome death he deserves). The moments of intense loneliness and anguish are attempted to be alleviated through forced play. It all feels quite childlike. Of course, there is no redemption when you’re trapped in a gated castle with sociopathic killer, units of heavy artillery, and poisonous reptiles and arachnids.


Naomi Falk is a writer, editor, and book designer. Her work fixates on art, pain, and the ways in which we engage and disconnect our sensory perceptions. She is the production director of powerHouse Books, the co-founder of the print magazine NAUSIKÂE NYC, the senior editor of Archways Editions, and founder of Crop Circle Press.

She is working on several full-length projects and is represented by Mina Hamedi of Janklow & Nesbit Associates.

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