• La Orca

    Released by: Camera Obscura
    Released on: February 2012.
    Director: Eriprando Visconti
    Cast: Rena Niehaus, Michele Placido, Flavio Bucci, Bruno Corazzari, Gabriele Ferzetti
    Year: 1976

    The Movie:

    Directed by Luchino Visconti’s nephew, Eriprando Visconti, 1976’s La Orca stars pretty blonde Rena Niehaus as Alice, the stepdaughter of a wealthy bourgeoisie type (Gabriele Ferzetti) from northern Italy who is kidnapped by a trio of hoodlums (Michele Placido, Flavio Bucci, Bruno Corazzari) from the south of the country and held for ransom. The abduct her, drug her and bind her to a bed in a dirty room out in the sticks and wait for her parents to pay them off, hoping it’ll happen before the cops get in the way.

    The youngest of the kidnappers, Michele (Placido), starts to take a liking to her and as her parents don’t seem to be ponying up the ransom money anytime soon, once she accidently sees him with his mask off, he figures he might as well get to know her a little bit. Once this is set into motion, they strike up a strange and fairly sexual relationship – highlighted by a creepy scene in which he takes advantage of her while she’s drugged out of her mind - but things aren’t going quite as swimmingly for Michele as he believes them to be and this is a story that can only end badly.

    An interesting mix of your standard kidnapping/ransom plot mixed up with Patty Hearst inspired twists and a liberal dose of left leaning politics, Visconti’s La Orca is a well made mix of exploitative kicks and arthouse sensibility. While it’s directed with a bit of style, the minimalist locations would try to trick you otherwise and the bulk of the film takes place in one dirty, grubby room which gives large portions of the film a stagey feeling. Some flourishes stand out though, particularly a scene in which Michele imagines himself on a yacht where he approaches Alice, who he’s just starting to become fixated on, who is dressed in something that looks like it was left over from Pasolini’s Medea.

    Performance wise, it’s Rena Niehaus and Michele Placido that do all of the heavy lifting here, which is interesting as the liners point that out that the former didn’t even speak Italian when the movie was being made, which left to some difficulty here and there. Regardless, she’s convincing in her role and her back and forth with Placido, also a strong performer, is far more believable than it probably has any right to be under the circumstances. It’s fun to see the more recognizable Flavio Bucci and Bruno Corazzari pop up here but outside of the early kidnapping scene and a fairly daft subplot involving Bucci and an affair he’s having but it adds very little to the story outside of allowing for some extra sex.

    Given that Italy was inundated with a rash of kidnapping and ransom cases during the tumultuous political upheaval occurring in the country during the seventies, this film would have been quite topical when it first came out. Visconti would get Rena Niehaus back for a reportedly fairly salacious sequel entitled Oedipus Orca less than a year later which has yet to see an English friendly home video release.


    La Orca looks great in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen in this excellent restored transfer from Camera Obscura. This isn’t the most colorful film ever made and as so much of it takes place inside a grimy looking dirty grey room you don’t get a lot of pop but the outdoor scenes and boat dream sequence look nice in that regard. Skin tones look lifelike and accurate and there are no problems with compression artifacts at all. Print damage is never an issue and all in all this is a nice, film-like transfer that does the movie justice.

    Audio options are offered in Dolby Digital Mono in both Italian and German with subtitles available in English and German. Both tracks sound good, but the Italian track suits the film better than the German one does. Clarity is good across the board and the score sounds nice. Dialogue stays clear, there’s no hiss or distortion related problems and the levels are well balanced.

    Extras start off with an audio interview with Rena Niehaus conducted in German (with optional English subtitles) by Christian Kessler which discusses in quite a bit of detail her work as a German model and then her later work as an actress in Italy. They talk about her experiences working on this film and on a few others, how she opted not to appear in Passolini’s infamous Salo and what it was like working with Eriprando Visconti and her co-stars on La Orca. It’s an interesting track that gives up a lot of great biographical information about the actress and which serves as a fairly fascinating snapshot of the Italian film industry of the seventies. As such, it’s definitely worth listening to.

    Up next is an interview with Italian filmmaker Corrado Colombo entitled A.K.A. Prandino clocking in at just under twenty-four minutes in which the man discusses the work of Eriprando Visconti and provides some interesting socio-political context to this film in particular. A second interview, Dissecting La Orca, allows Italian film scholar Antonio Bruschini to further elaborate on some of the same themes but with more emphasis on the politics of Italy during the time that the film was made than on the film’s director. Between the two interviews, we get a lot of very solid background information on the film, the man who made it and the state of the country it was made in.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are Italian and German theatrical trailers, a still gallery of production stills and promotional artwork, animated menus available in both English and German, and chapter selection. Inside the slick digipack packaging is a color booklet or liner notes that provide more information on the film, the filmmaker, and the cast and which also reproduce some German ad mat art from the film’s original theatrical run. The liners also discuss the sensationalist re-titling the film was given in Germany and the sequel, Oedipus Orca.

    The Final Word:

    An interesting mix of thriller and exploitation film elements with political class war ideologies, La Orca is well made and well acted and ultimately well worth seeing. Camera Obscura have once again rolled out the red carpet, offering up the film in excellent condition and with some great extras that offer some very valuable context.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. pat4260's Avatar
      pat4260 -
      I am obsessed with this film but cannot find the German DVD.
      Could someone please post the frontal nudes of the leading man Michele Placido from the German print ?
      I would be forever grateful.