This film was written and directed by Italian director Marco Bellocchio. Bellocchio is a veteran arthouse director who studied film and the arts in Italy and in London. His first feature film (Fists in the Pocket (1965)), already bagged him an award at Locarno, and many nominations and awards have followed since. Sangue del mio Sangue is barely a vampire film, but most definitely an arthouse film. So much so that I cannot give you a coherent plot summary, but can only vaguely describe what is happening:
The film takes place in Bobbio (Italy), and it consists of two halves, one of which takes place in the early modern era and the other one today.
In the first (and, it seemed to me, longer) half, we witness Inquisition procedures against a young nun, Benedetta. No-one seems sure that a crime has actually been committed, but getting a confession out of her would make things a lot easier for a number of interested parties. This entire sequence is full of not-so-subtle symbolism and even less subtle criticism of the Catholic Church. In many of these scenes Bellocchio uses dialogue and performance as very precise tools in order to provide a fine-grained portrayal of the absurdity and perversity of the Inquisition and its inner logic.
When the action moves to our times, we find Bobbio full of people hiding from someone, or something – mostly from the authorities, because half the town seems to be engaged in a very lucrative scheme fleecing the country’s social security systems. Many of these people have trapped themselves within the nets of their hidden lives. People who claim to be dead no longer leave the house during the day for fear of being exposed. People who claim to be blind slowly wander the streets wearing black glasses. A woman whose husband has vanished is caught in administrative and financial limbo, as she cannot claim spousal support from someone who is dead, but cannot claim insurance money, etc., unless she can prove he is no longer alive.
This entrapment and self-entrapment, and the state of limbo, are themes running through this second half of the film. Like vampires, the film seems to want to tell us, the perpetrators and victims of the scheme are neither one thing, nor the other. And the town itself is also in limbo, caught between the past and the present, resisting many modern inventions like the internet, etc.
The absurdity of the situation is exemplified by a man who claims to be crazy (the film leaves it up to your own judgement to decide whether he is or isn’t). He tells us that he wanted his doctor to help him claim social security support because of his mental state, but instead his doctor filed a claim for “loss of limbs”, saying that that was much easier. When the poor patient was hauled before a committee much later, he could hardly deny that his limbs were all there, but he could also not convince anybody that he had been crazy the whole time and should have received money anyway. The conclusion to his story goes someway like this: “And now, I have not enough cash to pay back the money I did not steal in the first place.”
The nervousness of the townspeople is massively increased when a government administrator arrives in Bobbio with a mysterious Russian billionaire who allegedly wants to buy the disused prison from the state. That building, however, is also loosely connected to their scheme.
If you now ask yourself, what this has to do with vampires, I have no real answer for you. There are people in this film who are claiming to be vampires, but – with one notable exception – there are no traditional vampire genre elements to be found here. Vampirism is rather used as an allegory here: for clinging to the past, and for being in a state of limbo (see above).
Some actors play not one, but two characters in this film: one in the past, and one in the present. This, however, is neither meant to hint at reincarnation nor at eternal live (in Bellocchio’s world, we are told, vampires are not immortal but do age). Rather, this Doppelgänger element is meant to revisit the idea that, however much things change, they also do stay the same in some ways.
Speaking of the actors: the cast, which includes many frequent collaborators of Bellocchio, is very strong and I would not be able to identify even one weak performance in the film. It seems almost unfair to name only some of the actors, but those with major supporting roles are Roberto Herlitzka, Fausto Russo Alesi, and especially Lidiya Liberman (Benedetta). The director’s son, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, plays what could arguably be called the lead character; and there are other family members in the cast as well.
Apart from the acting, the film’s strengths are its atmosphere, its visual richness, and its soundtrack.
I am not sure how the two halves of the film are meant to connect thematically. I assume that the director had been looking for a way to criticise the Catholic Church as well as some modern evils, but I still cannot find a way to link these. Since at least one character in the modern-day story line keeps emphasising how bad things are today and seems to be clinging to the past, it might be a possible interpretation to say that the first half of the film illustrates the ugly realities of “yesteryear” as opposed to the romanticised ideals we today may have of that era?
Sangue del mio Sangue is not completely inaccessible like some other arthouse films, but still a film without a traditional plot. If my description of the film arouses your interest, you could certainly do worse than see this film. But if you are looking for a vampire film, you should give this one a miss. As far as the supernatural angle of this film is concerned, I only liked two things. Firstly the fact that the director gives us some glimpses only, merely teases us with the supernatural, and still manages to provide enough dots for us to connect, one way or the other, allowing each viewer to imagine their own supernatural sub-plot. And secondly, I am rather impressed how Bellocchio is able to create some body horror at the end of the film without really showing us a body.
I cannot rate this film as a vampire film; as an arthouse film, I’d give it between 6 and 7 out of 10.