DIr: Brunello Rondi, 1963.
95 min. Italy.
In Italian with English subtitles.


In this unlikely, highly successful blend of Italian Neorealism and Catholic horror, Daliah Lavi stars as a disturbed farmer’s daughter whose behavior grows increasingly erratic when the object of her desire marries another woman. She attempts to cast spells on him, and the townspeople become convinced she consorts with demons and speaks to the dead. Though remaining sympathetic, her family believes she is possessed and enlists the services of an exorcist. Meanwhile, the town grows increasingly anxious over her presence.

Il demonio is somewhat ambivalent toward the implied supernatural, yet the richly textured soundtrack by Piero Piccioni and some unforgettably eerie scenes suggest the extraordinary. The scenery of canyonside city Matera further speaks to ancient rites and primitive superstition. Yet it is above all a one-woman show: though Lavi is best known for spy spoofs like Casino Royale and The Silencers, and Il demonio‘s obscurity keeps it off many summary filmographies, her dramatic performance here is revelatory and absolutely up to par with Bergman and Magnani—a performance that seems to comprise the entire film rather than vice-versa. Though playing a distressed Catholic, her Israeli heritage makes for a brilliant casting as a woman marked as an outsider, persecuted for her sexuality, and held to crude religious superstitions.

In the US, director Bruenllo Rondi is an unsung figure in Italian cinema. He was a career-spanning collaborator of Fellini who served as both writer and artistic advisor on 8 ½ and La dolce vita while also writing scripts for Rosselinni (The Flowers of St. Francis, Europa ‘51) and De Sica (A Place for Lovers). His directorial career is almost entirely ignored: Il demonio is his second film following his adaptation of Pasolini’s novel A Violent Life; following their dismal critical and commercial receptions, he returned primarily to scriptwriting before helming a string of exploitation films in the 1970s. Il demonio is not one of them: it’s a true overlooked masterpiece begging for rediscovery.



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