It is a long concrete snake which crawls through a green southern Italian valley, rising above with majesty. A gigantic highway bridge which fluidly carries cars coming from and going to places we will never know of. It is modernity in motion, arrogantly cutting through the past, ignoring those who can't follow its pace.
Down in its shadow, at the foot of the piles, lies a village, stuck in a timewarp. Remote from the movement above.
Two different worlds, living next to each other but completely separated. Yet interactions do occur, and this is the idea Non si sevizia un Paperino (Don't torture a Duckling - Lucio Fulci, 1972) is built on: describing and analysing the violent effects of the intrusion of urbanisation and modernisation in a conservative community.
This is why, contrary to what's being often said, this film is not a rural giallo. Giallo is a quintessentially contemporary and urban genre, and this one is no exception.
In fact, "Non sevizia..." can be considered a detailed report of the reactions of a body rejecting a transplant.
An emblematic symptom of the rejection: Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet). She is the girl who came from the city through the highway, driving a powerful Iso Lele. She lives in a house at the entrance of the village. Her home remains outside of the community though, both geographically and architecturally (a futuristic building in complete contrast with the traditional little white houses). To escape from the suffocating atmosphere of the village which ostracises her, she sometimes goes back to her natural element, the highway, and drives for hours for the sake of driving. Movement against immobility.
She also actively tries to convert the most permeable elements of the community to her libertarian lifestyle, by sexually teasing the young boys of the village.
Temptation is coming from outside. The same teenage boys can't help being intrigued by the regular visit of other outsiders : prostitutes coming from the city to give some nice time to a few workmen.
Temptation is a threat to the community; it jeopardises its future by corrupting youth and detracting them from traditions. It detracts them from the most important: religion.
Temptation implies change, when the main aspiration of this traditional land is to maintain a status quo.
So when the young boys start being murdered one after the other, the whole community stands as one, pointing at those who are considered outsiders: the village idiot, the sleazy city girl Patrizia and a poor mad woman considered a witch, Martiara (Florinda Bolkan).
But the death of the young boys is the brutal and obvious symptom of the village's rejection of the modern world: it's in fact from the deep heart of the community that the sacrifice of "corrupt sprouts" was perpetrated.
Don't Torture a Duckling is probably one of the best gialli ever made, and certainly a demonstration of Lucio Fulci's underestimated talent. It also ties back to the director's obsessions about the body, which he explored in most of his films. More on this theme from this blog here.