Baba Yaga (1973)

After police disrupt an artists’ anti-colonialist ‘happening’, photographer Valentina (Isabelle de Funès) flees to a party where the subversive potential of comic strips and film is under discussion. And so Baba Yaga, adapted from Guido Crepax’s comic strip Valentina, advertises a reflexive concern with art and politics long before its hallucinatory plot (involving witchcraft, lesbian S&M, a cursed camera, an animated doll and a hellish portal) has begun.

“Contradiction” asserts Valentina’s filmmaker boyfriend Arno (George Eastman) “is the number one rule.” The encounter of modern, independent Valentina with ancient witch Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker) certainly involves contradiction – but Arno means specifically the ideological double-think that allows him to make both committed ecological documentaries and casually racist advertisments. Valentina, too, calls for revolution, but at the same time exploits voguish “sex and civil rights” issues for her commercial shoots (and nervously fantasises about Nazi executions), while her friend Guido is happy to clean up his cartoons’ “anti-capitalist message” in return for a bigger public and “loads of money”. Here the seductive witch, with her promise to make Valentina “rich and powerful”, embodies the anxieties of the Left in a changing world that remains full of age-old temptations and revenant fascisms

In a coup for Shameless, Farina presents his film in a newly re-edited version that is as close as possible to his original (cut by producers and censors alike for theatrical release). In homage to the story’s comicbook source, a stylish montage of black-and-white stills replaces the moving image in some scenes – and there is even a paradoxical cameo from one of Crepax’s graphic novels to whet Valentina’s own sexual appetite. The result is an elegant phantasmagoria – perhaps not revolutionary in the true sense, but certainly unique, and far from the Eurosleaze schlockfest you might be expecting.

© Anton Bitel