All this may be true, but I'm here to tell you that "What Have You Done to Solange?" is a thoroughly rewarding thriller that I have no problem recommending to any fan of suspense films.
This twisty mystery begins with Italian-born Catholic school professor Enrico (nee Henry, to his English colleagues) Rosseni engaged in a romantic boat ride in a London park with his student, Elizabeth. Sexually innocent and frightened by Rosseni's physical advances, Elizabeth claims to witness a murder on the shore. Frustrated, Rosseni chides the girl for her constant excuse-making, yet when he returns to the park later, he finds it has been the scene of a savage murder and that the victim was a student of his. Everyone at the girls' school is a suspect, from Rosseni's spurned wife Herta to the leering Mr. Newton to Father Webber (we all know about the uniquely giallo tradition of "THE PRIEST DID IT!"). As the murders continue and the pattern seems to focus on Elizabeth's friends, Rosseni invests himself in the investigation and ultimately uncovers the terrible motive behind the killings.
I love thrillers of all flavors, and I don't demand a solution that I can figure out prior to the climax of the story. This is quite fortunate, since most Italo-thrillers don't provide a figure-out-able--or even terribly reasonable--solution. "What Have You Done to Solange?" is an exception to this rule, as it weaves its intricate tale by linking numerous suspense scenes into a snappily-paced story. Many gialli are characterized by long periods of exposition and dialogue punctuated by bravura setpieces--fans and detractors alike can agree that most of these films are really Setpiece Life Support Systems. "Solange" is more akin to Dario Argento's "The Bird with the Crystal Plumge," which has a structure likened to Hitchcock's thrillers with lots of suspense, plentiful red herrings, and surprising narrative turns.
Now, I know that a number of you are probably hung up on the idea of the protagonist of the piece having an adulterous relationship with a teenaged girl. To our sensibilities, this is little better than casting the protagonist as an unhinged prostitute killer. It's important to put on our Cultural Relativist Eyeglasses and understand that the prohibitions on extramarital affairs are different outside of the US, so while the 2010 Sensibility here might have us drawing and quartering Professor Rosseni as an unfaithful pedophile, his affair in the context of an Italian film from 1972 is simply a symptom of his failing marriage. To many international audiences, the fact that Rosseni is at all patient with Elizabeth's reluctance to sacrifice her virginity is evidence of his being a decent sort of bloke.
The theme of girls'--and by extension women's--secret social structures pervades the film and provides a large measure of the tension. When it comes to light that the students are experimenting with sex and drugs, the professors' responses range from shock to disparaging cynicism, mirroring cultural responses to the process of female maturation. The problem of Western culture's inability to accept anything between--or other than--the transformation of the untouched young female to the doting mother informs this film. Viewing "What Have You Done to Solange?" as a movie about adolescent women told from a sexualized male perspective gives it a sociological texture--and a moral ambiguity--that electrifies the story.
Visually, "Solange" is an interesting movie to discuss. Much of its stylistic appeal comes from the constant movement of the camera, rather than from brightly colored sets and costume designs or exotic locations. Joe D'Amato (yes, THAT Joe D'Amato) lenses the film skillfully undoubtedly guided by Dallamano, an accomplished cinematographer in his own right. There's very nice use of POV shots, extreme close-ups and fisheye lenses that provide off-kilter perspectives throughout the film. While the costuming and design are distinctly English, with tweeds, dark wood and stone informing much of the look and feel, the camera is the best kind of Italianate.
Thriller fans should seek out "What Have You Done to Solange?" whether they're pro-giallo or not. It's an expertly-paced, well-acted suspense film that satisfies from beginning to end.