It’s kind of alarming the things people will do for money. I’m not thinking here of illegalities like bank robbery or murder, but what they’ll do for legit, above-board (though perhaps under the table) money. People will donate plasma, sperm, even their organs. People will humiliate themselves in public just to be able to pay some bills or buy something they want. They will even subject themselves to experiments, the outcomes of which are nebulous even from the outset. Famously, Robert Rodriguez raised much of the budget for El Mariachi by participating in medical experiments. Bear in mind, the film was made for about seven thousand dollars (that we’re told, at any rate; I’ve heard debate about that, but this isn’t the time or place). That’s seven thousand dollars to risk your health and even your life. It’s been calculated that the human body is actually worth (in chemical elements) a little less than two hundred dollars. This doesn’t take into account the value of human life, and that’s really what it all boils down to; is the content worth more than its context? Is the coffee worth more than the coffee mug? At the end of the day, we all add it up differently, I suppose. All I know is you would have to pay me a fuck of a lot more than seven thousand dollars to strand me on the moon with no way back and watch me die. Like, seven thousand, five hundred, at least.
And that’s how Luigi Bazzoni’s Footprints On The Moon (aka Le Orme aka Primal Impulse) opens. An unconscious astronaut is dragged onto the moon’s surface and abandoned. Meanwhile back on (we assume) Earth, the sinister Dr. Blackmann (played by the sinister Klaus Kinski) watches the events play out from his high tech headquarters. And then Alice (Florinda Bolkan) wakes up. Though unnerved by her dream and a torn postcard in her trashcan, she goes about her job as a translator, transcribing government hearings. But when she delivers the transcripts, she finds that she has also lost not only a couple days worth of time but also very likely her job. Alice sets about finding the missing puzzle pieces and trying desperately to put them back in the right order.
If this film can be said to be anything outside of a dizzyingly complicated Mystery, I feel that it is an attempt at correlating the worlds of dreams, films, and the subconscious. Alice quickly realizes that her recurring dream is from a film (also called Footprints On The Moon), which she claims had a profound effect on her as a child. Already the three have been linked thematically in just a little bit of exposition. A film from her youth haunts Alice in the present. Clearly, there is something about this and how it relates to her childhood which is causing her to reach back in her non-waking mind to these images, and this story. Alice’s subconscious is trying to tell her something vital, but it is trying to do it (primarily) through representational images rather than through straight images from her memories. It does this for two reasons. Number one, there is the falseness of film in and of itself (and the probability of false/misremembered memories), something which Alice must discern from reality for herself. And number two, there is the importance of this fake film’s themes and how they relate to Alice’s life.
Footprints On The Moon (the fake one; yes, I get the humor in that statement) is essentially about loneliness. The unnamed astronaut is left to die but is observed from afar like he were in an ant farm. His final moments are (or would be in the real world) marked by silence (no sound in outer space, don’t ya know), surrounded by a landscape that may as well be the Serengeti. His death throes are an agonized grasping for some final human contact which he will never feel. Bazzoni reflects this in Alice’s “normal” life and in her quest for answers. Her apartment is Spartan in decoration, and it is as white as the dirt on the moon. Even when she has people around her, Alice is kept at a distance, and the locations are shot to enhance this solitude. The Hotel Garma is an imposing structure from the outside, while inside it is cavernous but lifeless. Alice sits on the beach under a tree which appears half-dead, cut off from the world, removed from life. There is a frigid detachment in every shot of this film, and this mirrors our protagonist’s mental state. The world Alice inhabits is essentially her own mind, and it is the secrets therein which will provide her with solutions to her mystery if not to what will happen to her next.
The film-within-the-film is in black-and-white, distinguishing itself from the “real” world Alice inhabits on a day-to-day basis. But from a formal perspective, the audience would just as easily accept the differentiation in color as being between dreams and being awake. There are other uses of color throughout the film, however. Nominally, there are the characters of Madame LeBlanche (White), Madame Verde (Green), and Dr. Blackmann (I’ll let you parse that one out), though the first two are peripheral characters (there is some semblance of significance granted them, but it is fleeting in the narrative). Alice dresses almost always in white. Later, yellow will be her color, and she will wear it while lit by strikingly yellow light cast through a stained glass window (which will also seemingly change colors a short time later). Her later flashbacks in the film will also be tinged with a heavy yellow cast, though this may be due to the aging of the physical film used in production (I prefer to think not, but you likely already knew that). Harry (Peter McEnery) is signified by the blue sweater he wears, and his house is dominated by the color, particularly at night (becoming another reference to the eternal night of a short life on the moon). Paula (Nicoletta Elmi) is a young, red-haired girl who may unknowingly have more of the mystery put together than any other character in the film. This distinguishing of characters by color occurs after Alice travels to Garma, essentially bisecting her life into two parts. There is the part in Italy which is torpid and barren and haunted by a black and white film/dreamscape and for all intents and purposes false. Then there is the part in Garma which is revealed as truthful while being equally barren. After all, the one person we, none of us, can ever escape from is ourselves.
MVT: Bazzoni puts together a carefully constructed story, whose answers always seem one step further away than the last one was. The film is not a sprint but a marathon, and while it doesn’t engage a hundred percent of the time (and even if it did, the buildup to a resolution would have to be more impressive than the actual answers at the risk of sacrificing the entire story), it does so more than enough to be considered strong filmmaking by anyone’s standards.
Make Or Break: The opening is vague enough to be mysterious and clear enough that your mind immediately begins trying to connect the dots. Gripping stuff, indeed.