Henry addresses his gym class.
Above: Today, class, we’re going to practice running away from a handsy gym teacher.

What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)

馃泙馃徎馃泙馃徎 A cradle-robbing gym teacher is accused of brutal sex-murders at a Catholic girl鈥檚 school.

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Sometimes you settle in to watch a melodramatic, over-the-top Italian serial-killer giallo and wind up getting something different. This was the case with聽What Have You Done to Solange?. The movie is all of those things, but the film is darker and the protagonist sleazy enough that I was often uncomfortable watching it.

When students at a girls-only Catholic school start turning up murdered, suspicion falls on gym teacher Enrico 鈥淗enry鈥 Rossini (Fabio Testi). Henry is not subtle about his interest in the students and has a reputation for inappropriate behavior. His wife Herta (Karin Baal), an attractive but very severe woman, is well aware and losing patience. But that doesn鈥檛 stop Henry from setting up his current flame, Elizabeth (Cristina Galb贸), in an apartment near the school.

Henry looks embarrassed as the police investigate a murder in his apartment.

Dead catholic schoolgirl in your love-nest, Henry. Not a good look.

The murders themselves are particularly misogynist if not particularly graphic. The father of one of the victims asks an inspector: was she raped? 鈥淚n a certain sense,鈥 he replies and pulls out x-rays that leave no doubt about how the girls were killed.聽聽

Henry is, of course, not guilty. At least of being a murderer. And he turns detective to clear his name (of murder), in the process learning of the fate of a mysterious student named Solange (Camille Keaton, Buster鈥檚 granddaughter), the reason the murdered girls were chosen, and the unsettling motivation for the method of their murder. In the process, he enlists his wife鈥檚 help, reviving their relationship and turning his attentions away from the young girls under his care.

What Have You Done to Solange?聽is practically the definition of a problematic movie. There鈥檚 a lot here that I have questions about. Although other critics online seem unsure whether these are college students or high school students, it doesn鈥檛 really matter. The faculty鈥檚 relationship with the students is clearly paternalistic. They speak to the girls as though they are children, lecture them as though they are children, and the girls act like children. I do not know anything about European Catholic schools in the 1970s, but I got a realistic enough high-school vibe to be seriously wigged out by Henry鈥檚 behavior. The fact that we get not one but聽two聽group shower-scenes didn鈥檛 help matters. The scenes鈥 point is to hear the student鈥檚 private chatter about the murders, but the director justifies the slow, lingering pans by showing us that someone on the school鈥檚 staff has a convenient peep-hole into the locker room.

Herta glares at Henry

I’m not mad you 鈥渄ate鈥 your students, Henry. Just jealous.

Perhaps worse than Henry鈥檚 behavior is that of the rest of the faculty, who mostly roll their eyes. They do not blame Henry, though. He would not be this way if Herta was not so severe. Later, Herta learns something about Henry鈥檚 dalliances that seems like a technical distinction to me but apparently makes all the difference to Herta. She literally lets her hair down. Instead of harrying Henry, she begins seducing him again.

The thematic message this sends is upsetting. Perhaps Henry鈥檚 relationship with Herta is on the rocks because she has been a bit of an ice queen. I can accept that. But to suggest Henry鈥檚 sexual predation on students under his authority and responsibility are somehow Herta鈥檚 fault is a bit much for me to bear. Henry should have been run out of town on a rail years ago. Herta may be willing to forgive him, but I鈥檓 not.

Perhaps even more worrisome is the motivation for the murders. I would love to say more about but don鈥檛 feel like I can without spoilers. Let鈥檚 just say that if you blame the victims of serial killers, I think it should feel a bit more like cheesy melodrama and a bit less like you, the director, think they are getting their just deserts.

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