Basic plot: Alice Cespi lives in Italy and works as an interpreter at an international organisation. She loses her job when she fails to turn up for work and realises that she has lost three days of her life, suffering from some sort of memory loss. A discarded postcard of a mysterious place called Garma and the nightmares she has of a film called Footprints on the Moon lead her to investigate what has happened during those lost days to see if she can find out for herself what is happening to her and why.
Cast: Professor Blackmann – Klaus Kinski; Florinda Bolkan – Alice Cespi/Nicole; Peter McEnery – Harry; Nicoletta Elmi – Paula Burton; Lila Kedrova – Mrs Heim; Caterina Boratto – Boutique Owner.
Filming location: Phaselis and Valtur di Kemer, Turkey and Rome, Italy
Release date: 1 February 1975
Availability: Footprints is available in a full re-build version on Shameless DVDs (including trailers, photo gallery and an alternate version of the English opening credits) for just over £5 from Amazon. It’s a dubbed version (aside from the re-built sections, which have subtitles) but it’s such an excellent film that even that does not put me off. That said, if anyone ever releases a full sub-titled version, let me know!
The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:
I’m kind of obsessed with illusion and reality and space and time, so Footprints, which covers all of those issues, AND has Klaus Kinski looking mighty fine as a bad, bad Professor, really fits the bill as far as I’m concerned.
The film starts with shots of an astronaut being abandoned on the moon as part of an experiment.
Professor Blackmann announces that the experiment has started, that his crew should return immediately to base and he will alert the organisation. At this point a telephone rings relentlessly and Alice Cespi is awoken from her sleep. She answers the call to find that it is her chatterbox of a friend, Rosa, who talks nineteen to the dozen and exaggerates like crazy: “Alice! What the hell have you been doing? It’s been ringing for hours!” Maybe it has, we don’t know, and neither does Alice, who does not know what time it is. Rosa tells her that “It’s 9:30, no, it’s even later – it’s a quarter to ten”. She asks Rosa where she is and she says she’s at the airport, “You know, these new jets are incredible, only 3 hours ago I was at home.” Yes, space and time is a major concern of this film.
Rosa wants to meet Alice and suggests they meet at 11:00 but Alice says she needs to hand a translation in by noon and she has not yet finished. So why she agrees to meet Rosa at 11:30 I am not sure as she then showers, makes coffee, dresses and works on finishing the translation of Professor Janek’s report. By the time the telephone conversation is over she has just over 90 minutes to do all of this and to get down to the library to meet Rosa. She’s pushing it time wise if you ask me, but then we are soon to discover that Alice is not the most reliable when it comes to time.
Whilst getting ready Alice realises she has lost an earring. She then discovers a postcard torn into pieces, with no writing on it, lying on the floor by the bin. Alice does not seem to recall anything about the postcard at all and lays out the pieces on the table; the photograph is of a hotel in a place called Garma. Perturbed, she throws the pieces into the bin.
And then meets her friend Rosa who is telling her about what she got up to on Tuesday and how someone had invited her home at 3 in the morning. We know Alice believes it is Tuesday today but, with restricted narration, as the viewer we’re not sure whether Rosa is talking about Tuesday last week, and as Alice does not react to this, nothing appears to be untoward at this point. But Alice appears very distracted and Rosa asks her about this: “I was thinking about the dream I had this morning – it keeps coming back. A very strange dream. A man is abandoned on the moon for an experiment… I dreamt a scene from a movie I saw years ago. It made a terrible impression on me. I never saw the end, I left the cinema before it was over. It was called Blood on the Moon. No! Footprints on the Moon.”
Alice then arrives at work and, rather confusingly, answers to the name Miss Campos when someone calls out to her. For info, I believe this is a problem with the re-built version as several of the characters had slightly different names in the Italian language version of the film (Paula Burton is also listed as Paola Bersel and Alfred Lowenthal is also listed as Alfredo Laurenti) and the sections which have been edited in have the audio from the Italian version and original subtitles. Anyway, I must admit this could lead to confusion as this film does play upon illusion and reality and problems of identity, so it’s not very helpful…
The conversation with Alice’s colleague is rather long and rambling – which might explain why it was cut from the previous version – but provides information which is useful in identifying the nature of the problems Alice is about to encounter and some background on the circumstances behind the loss of her job: “Leblanche has succeeded. You don’t appear in the register. It’s a real conspiracy. Larson just told me. You didn’t listen to my advice. It’s Ms Schweiss who knows everything around here. Anyhow it’s not fair, because you are very good at your work. I heard you the other day. If you like I could speak to Hinman; he is a good friend of Dileo, maybe there’s something that can be done?”
It all sounds very mysterious. Then when Alice hands in the translation she is told that she is three days late and that Marie Leblanche had to take her place in the last session when Alice left the session suddenly without telling anyone. Alice does not understand how this can be possible but when she looks at the calendar she realises that it is:
Alice’s colleague tells her that, “…it’s not the first time you’ve caused problems, for example last year…” Unfortunately we don’t find out what happened last year. Alice asks if she can come back to work and is told that it’s up to Mrs Weissmann.
Alice speaks with her friend Mary and tells her that she appears to have forgotten 3 days: “I can’t remember anything. It’s as if I hadn’t lived them.” So they meet up to discuss the problem. Alice says she remembers perfectly being there at the last session and that she was in cabin 26. When she recalls the event it is shown in b+w in the same way that the Professor Blackmann sequences appear,
It’s not clear why Alice’s colleagues want her out of the job and Marie Leblanche in her place but clearly Alice sees herself and her work as being scrutinised in some way and says she recalls Leblanche staring at her “as if she was willing me to make a mistake.”
Alice is uncertain about the following events but says that something happened in the hall and everyone was looking towards her and then she left the building by one of the side doors.
She hurries away as if she is running away from something, but she doesn’t remember what happened after this. Mary wonders if she had been taking too many tranquilisers and had slept through. At this point Alice tells Mary about the photograph on the postcard she found on the floor: “I’m sure I’ve seen it before. I could swear it has an oriental room with a beautiful peacock painted on glass.”
When Alice gets home the cleaning lady arrives. She tells her that she was unable to visit the day before as she could not get an answer from Alice. She also tells her that she cannot find her grey suit which needs to go to the cleaners. Alice helps her to look for it and they cannot find it but Alice does find a yellow dress she does not recognise (it has to be said that this is the only colour in her white, cream and beige world); it is hanging in the wardrobe and it has a small blood stain on it. She does not know where it has come from and neither does the cleaning lady. Alice asks the cleaning lady if she has found the missing earring but she has not.
A real mystery appears to be unfolding. Then the telephone rings and when Alice answers it there is no one there. She tries on the yellow dress and when the telephone rings again she does not answer it. Alice is clearly disturbed about this series of incidents as she cannot sleep, gets up and takes some tablets, goes back to bed and then finally gets up and looks at the torn postcard again. She sees the peacock she described to Mary, first of all in b+w and then in colour:
She packs her bag, taking the yellow dress with her, and goes to the airport. She asks for a ticket to Garma and is told that she can take a flight to Hinton and then it is a 30 minute boat trip to the island. On the flight she closes her eyes and she sees the spaceship from the film.
Upon arrival at Garma she goes in search of a taxi and a man offers her a lift in his car. He asks her if it is her first time in Garma and she says it is. He tells her that he lives in Garma part of the time as he is trying to fix up an old house there. He points out to her that he is a very bad carpenter and shows her his bandaged hand. Alice asks to be dropped off at the Hotel Garma. Alice requests “the oriental room with the peacocks” in the Hotel but the staff don’t seem to know what she means and she is instead given a room overlooking the sea. Possibly disappointed that her hunch was not right, she says she will only be staying the one night.
Alice goes out for a wander but does not appear to find what she is looking for. Finally she sits down on the beach and closes her eyes. When she opens them a young girl is standing before her. The girl – a scary looking pale blue eyed red-head (who would later turn up in Death in Venice, Flesh for Frankenstein, Deep Red and Demons) – addresses Alice as if she knows her: “Hi! Fox isn’t here today.” Alice asks her who Fox is and she says he’s the stray dog she brought the bone for. The girl, who says her name is Mary, but who answers to the name of Paula when called, does not understand why Alice has a brooch that says Alice. Alice tells her that Alice is her name but the girl does not believe this is true and says that her name is Nicole. But Alice finds this hard to believe given that the girl is herself called Paula but says her name is Mary.
A similar incident occurs when Alice is greeted in the street by a man called Alfred Lowenthal who claims to know her as Miss Cespi (which is her name) but says that he saw her on the beach on Tuesday. Alice doesn’t seem to recall the man, who says he met her 3 years before in Vienna, but plays along with it. As an afterthought she follows Alfred to the boat to ask if he remembers anything else about Tuesday but unfortunately he has nothing else to tell her on this matter and is in a hurry to catch the boat so she gleans no more information here.
With no other source of information, Alice questions Paula on why she thought her name was Nicole. The information she gathers is that they were on the North Beach together on Tuesday, that she told her that her name was Nicole then, she was looking for a white house in the woods. But can Alice trust Paula? For someone who insisted that her name was Nicole she appears to be very confused – she may have recognised her as Nicole but she says Nicole has long red hair and is not as nice as Alice. When Alice asks if anyone else was on the beach on Tuesday she is told that Mrs Heim was also there.
Alice’s investigations with Mrs Heim are not very fruitful as Mrs Heim tells her that her distance glasses are broken and she cannot see as far as the North Beach so would not have seen her on Tuesday even if she was there. She also mentions that Paula has a great imagination and imaginary friends. Naturally this might make Alice feel as if there was no reason to believe what Paula has told her about Nicole and what happened on Tuesday. And yet… Mr Lowenthal also claimed to see her on the beach on Tuesday…
Losing herself in the woods, Alice is again helped by the man who gave her a lift in his car. We still don’t know his name – she has not asked for his name and nor has he asked for hers. He directs her back to the hotel and asks if he might see her again but she says she will be leaving the next day. He tells her that he is usually in the pavilion on the park at about noon each day if she changes her mind and decides to stay. Back at the hotel, the receptionist tells Alice that an unidentified man had called and asked if she was still staying there. That night she sees the moon and the abandoned astronaut again – this time Professor Blackmann says that they need to find new guinea pigs for their experiment – and outside her room, Alice hears footsteps…
Instead of leaving the next day Alice goes in search of Paula for more information. Paula tells her that Nicole kicked Fox when he found her hiding behind some rocks. Then Alice discovers that a piece of paper Paula has given her is part of her translation papers and she now knows there must be some truth in what Paula has been telling her.
Paula says she found the papers in the ruin, where Nicole had lit a big fire because she wanted to burn a dress. Nicole was hiding from something or someone and she was holding a small package in her hand. She was crying because she couldn’t find the house in the woods that she was looking for. Paula says she hated Nicole, but Alice says “I am Nicole.” Paula tells her that this is not true.
The mystery of the long red hair is solved when Fox, the stray dog, arrives at the ruins with a red wig in his mouth. Alice distracts Fox with a bone and takes the wig. When Fox sees Alice he becomes very angry and he starts to bark viciously. Maybe he remembers her as Nicole, the lady who kicked him?
Alice seems to go from one person to another, searching for information that might help her. So eventually she goes to see the man with no name at the pavilion, even though there is no real reason to believe that he may have information for her. He senses that something is wrong and asks her what the problem is, but Alice just wants to know why he looked at her like he already knew her when they first met. The man says that he does not remember. Whilst they are talking, a strange lady in a black hat appears to be watching Alice – eventually she says: “Everything is ready. I’ll expect you in the morning.” And then she leaves the pavilion seemingly in a hurry.Alice also leaves and follows the woman for quite some time but does not speak to her.
Alice takes the wig, which is labelled Marcel Garma, to the shop to get it cleaned up. The man in the shop recognises her eventually as having been in the shop on Tuesday. She learns that she had picked the wig and had her make-up changed to transform her image and change her whole appearance. When she starts to panic and says she has to go, the man asks her if she is in “in a hurry again today.”
Noticing a yellow dress identical to Nicole’s in a shop window, Alice enters and finds there the woman who she saw at the pavilion. She has been in the shop before and it seems she ordered a hat and some yellow flat-heeled shoes. She had also bought a bag and asked to have the name Nicole engraved on it. The woman asks Alice if she has found her friend Harry now. At this point Alice has a flashback, in colour, to a young man:
Alice had apparently talked at length to the boutique owner about Harry, even to the extent of telling her that his favourite colour is yellow. Alice had told her that she had come to Garma to look for Harry but she didn’t have his address, and only knew that the house was in the woods. She was apparently very upset. The yellow shoes, the yellow dress, the house in the woods – it’s all starting to become clear; Alice is looking for Harry. But the realisation of this makes Alice become angry: “You’re mixing me up with someone else – my name isn’t Nicole and I’ve never been here before. Never!”
When Alice decides to check out of the hotel, she discover that she has lost her wallet. A note from Mrs Heim explains that she left her wallet behind and she has kept it for her; she says she will return it to her when she sees her at Madame Dubrovska’s concert. The final boat for the evening leaves at 7pm and it is now 6:45.
Alice goes to the concert and asks Mrs Heim if she will let her have the wallet as she needs to get the final boat at 7pm. Mrs Heim gives her the wallet but tells her that it is five past seven already, so she will have missed the boat anyway. She also tells Alice that she knows she has been lying to her, that she has been to Garma before. The brooch Alice wears was made in Garma– Mrs Heim shows her a similar one she has – and the man who made it died many years ago. Alice gets another flashback to the spaceman – this time he takes off his helmet and dies. Professor Blackmann then confirms that the experiment has failed and says that they need to find the next guinea pig.
Back at the hotel, Alice dresses as Nicole and knocks on Paula’s door: “So you are Nicole… They were looking for you. Some people; bad, bad people who wanted to hurt you.” Paula tells Alice that on Tuesday she went to a store across the street and came back with a small package. Alice goes to the store with Paula and asks if she can buy the same items as she bought last time. Upon opening the parcel she finds a pair of scissors; when Paula sees them she says she wants to go back to the hotel. Paula says that on Tuesday Alice said there was a man on the North Beach and that he was one of the men looking for her; she had run off into the woods. Upon hearing this Alice manhandles and eventually slaps Paula. Is she turning into Nicole?
In a repeat of Tuesday’s events, Alice sees a man on the North Beach and runs into the woods with the scissors in her handbag. She falls over and when she awakens she is in the oriental room she dreamed about, with the peacock painting on the window. The man is there – the one who gave her the lift in his car – and he says that he found her unconscious in the woods, not far from the house. Alice says she thinks she has been there before, many years ago. She realises now that the man is Harry; he tells her that his parents had been away one day and that he had brought her there on his sailing boat.
Alice recalls the boat but seems perturbed as to why Harry did not tell her that he knew her when they met. Harry says, “I just couldn’t convince myself that I’d left no trace in you at all; that you could look at me and see only a stranger. The idea of reminding you of me, well, it humiliated me quite frankly. That’s why I brought you here; I wanted you to find out for yourself.” Alice holds Harry and says: “Harry, Harry, help me!” Harry, he’s here to help and he knows the cure for “that sad shadow across your eyes”, so he takes Alice to bed. Throughout Alice has flashbacks of them together as children.
When she awakens, Harry has gone. She sees her suitcase (which was in the hotel) in the room and goes to the bathroom to take some tablets. In the bathroom she finds the missing earring, and so she knows she was here on Tuesday after all.
Downstairs she overhears Harry talking on the telephone: “Yes, everything’s going well. I brought her suitcase over from the hotel. She’s sleeping now. Leave it to me. Don’t worry. She won’t get away with it now…” At this point Alice tries to back away but makes a noise, alerting Harry to her presence. She disappears to her room and locks herself in. Harry tries to cajole her out of the room and when she finally appears she is dressed as Nicole in the yellow dress and the wig. She tells Harry she knows she was there on Tuesday and ask him why he didn’t tell her. He explains everything as follows: “I won’t come any closer if you don’t want me to, but you must believe what I tell you. I know you can understand me now so I’m going to tell you the truth; all of it. You did come here on Tuesday. You were very upset. You said your name was Nicole and you were in danger. You were disguised to hide your real identity. You were looking for Harry. You said only Harry could help you. I told you I was Harry but you wouldn’t believe me. It’s been a long time, Alice. You’re looking for a boy who doesn’t exist anymore. I’m Harry. Believe me… When you came back to Garma and you didn’t recognise me, I followed you around to protect you, that’s all; to help you to discover the truth for yourself.”
Alice wants to know who he was talking to on the telephone and he explains that it was a doctor friend who was going to help her but he said he called him to tell him that he wasn’t needed anymore as Alice would be staying with him now. Alice doesn’t believe that explanation, so Harry continues: “Alice, last Tuesday you were not yourself. You said things that couldn’t be true… that someone was persecuting you… an organisation… agents… Blackmann…”
At this point Alice has a flashback of Blackmann saying, “This time she will not escape!”
Despite this, she tells Harry, “But those people, Blackmann, they don’t exist! It’s only a movie.” She thinks that maybe she cut Harry’s hand on Tuesday with the scissors, but he tells her that it was an accident. She doesn’t believe him and tells him that he’s not Harry; he’s one of them. He reminds her that “they” don’t exist – she’s forgotten that she has just said the very same thing herself. She tells Harry that she’s not crazy.
“On Tuesday when you came here, you needed love and protection. I can still give you that love, Alice.” Harry holds out his hand to her in friendship and Alice holds her hand out to him but as she takes his hand she stabs him in the chest with the scissors, telling him: “You’re not Harry! You’re not Harry!”
A siren sounds and Professor Blackmann is heard saying that she is hiding under the name of Nicole: “Alert our agents, she mustn’t get away!”
Alice / Nicole appears on the monitors but back in the bathroom, she sees the reflection of Nicole in the mirror and throws a bottle at her reflection, shouting: “I’m not Nicole!” Maybe she’s not Nicole but, sadly, Harry was telling the truth and he was Harry after all:
Back in her normal (that is to say, white) clothes, Alice says aloud: “My name is Alice. I’m Alice Cespi. This time I will not run away.” She walks off into the woods, occasionally turning as if she has heard a noise of someone pursuing her. Eventually she sees two spacemen in front of her on the beach – one of them says: “It’s time. Let’s go.”
Alice screams as she recognises that she is now living the end of the movie she believed she had walked out on before the end because it left a terrible impression on her. The spacemen pursue her and eventually catch her and tie her up, dragging her down the beach.
Leaving footprints on the beach…
At the end of the film there is an untranslated intertitle in Italian – it says something along the lines of: “By 15 October 1971 Alice Campos was hospitalised at the Neuropsychiatric Institute of Kustnazt (Switzerland).”
My reading of the film:
Everyone’s going to have their own understanding of the film and what actually happened, but here’s what I think. I don’t think the movie ever existed; I think that the stress of losing her job and possibly the number of tranquilisers she was taking was affecting Alice’s mental health. The conversation with the lady in the lobby of Alice’s workplace gives a clue to some kind of unexplained conspiracy at work to get Alice out of her job and to get Marie Leblanche in her post instead. This may be something to do with the problem that her supervisor says Alice caused last year. Alice is told it is up to Mrs Weissmann whether or not she can return to her job. Leblanche includes the French word for white and Weissmann is German for Whiteman. The Professor in the film / her dreams, who wants to inform the “organisation” of what is happening, is called Blackmann. Alice tends to see the world in black and white when she has flashbacks – even those including herself – or at least not in full colour and in muted tones; when she sees in colour, the flashbacks relate to Harry. The beautiful peacock painted on the glass at Harry’s house is very colourful; Harry seems to represent colour for her. When she first sees the peacock in a flashback, it is in b+w but then the image transforms into colour. Alice tends to dress in mainly neutral colours – whites, creams, beige – and even her home has this colour scheme. The only colour in her wardrobe is the yellow dress she finds, which turns out to belong to “Nicole.” Yellow, we later discover, is Harry’s favourite colour. Alice probably went off to see Harry in the first instance – on the Tuesday – because his colourful world reminded her of a time when she felt safe; she wants to go back in time, in effect, to a safer, happier place.
The reason I think the “film” is a space movie is to do with the spatial and temporal ellipsis – the fact that Alice has been to another country and is not aware of this, and that she has “lost” some time. At one point Harry tells Alice that she seems to be “somewhere off in space”. And also Rosa tells Alice that the new jet planes are incredible and that just 3 hours before she had been at home; there are incredibly fast methods of moving in space and time and these jet planes may be fast but not as fast as the space craft, which takes the astronaut to the moon. The delay in hermeneutics, too – we’re not sure why Hotel Garma is relevant but we, like Alice, know that it is – emphasises the temporal ellipsis; it takes some time for the story to unfold and we discover what’s happened to Alice only as and when she does.
As I said before, Alice may have seen Garma as somewhere safe for her to return to, but being paranoid about being found by Professor Blackmann (who I think is part of her subconscious, which in her dreamtime tells her that someone is out to get her and do harm to her) and his crew, she disguised herself as Nicole so she would go unrecognised. From the stories told by Paula and the others, Alice appeared to be distressed that she could not find Harry but she was also scared and hiding from the men she thought were going to get her. Alice seems to be suffering from severe paranoia – people are always looking at her; notice in the images I’ve included in this article that people seem to look over their shoulder at her. She says that everyone in the hall was looking at her when she was translating and that Marie Leblanche seemed to be “willing me to make a mistake”. Alice feels like the whole world is out to get her. Ultimately her mistrust results in her killing Harry who, we can only assume, was there to help her. In the end she is taken away, presumably arrested and sectioned, for the crime she committed.
I see some people have referred to this as a kind of Last Year at Marienbad-light but it deserves much more than that. And it’s not just your average giallo film either (although giallo is relevant in this film, with the importance of the colour yellow). The cinematography (by Vittorio Storaro, who worked on The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now…) and soundtrack are both just perfect. The cast are perfect – and, can I just say, Peter McEnery played a great role here – with my only complaint being that a little more Klaus would not go amiss. The mise-en-scène created the perfect atmosphere with vast spaces and scale; the location makes you feel as if time has stopped (the costumes, music, and buildings used in the Garma set are from another time and Mr Lowenthal was even riding in a horse and carriage, which just reinforces the other-worldy and timeless feel that Garma has); the feeling of being followed, being lost, of going crazy, of losing your identity, all make you empathise with Alice. This is an incredibly stylish thriller and I thoroughly recommend it.
Kinski Information: Filming on Footprints took place in May and June of 1974 in Valtur di Kemer. Klaus only appears for about one minute all told, so this can’t really be described as a Klaus Kinski film; that will come as no surprise to those of you who have seen a bunch of Kinski films as he often took cameo roles, especially if they paid well. As Christian David notes in his Kinski Die Biographie (Aufbau, Berlin, 2008) it was the first time in years that Kinski had worked on a respectable film (there was Aguirre: The Wrath of God in 1972, so it wasn’t that long!) but 1974 saw him working on both Footprints and The Important Thing is to Love, which are both considered to be amongst the more stylish films Kinski worked on outside of the Kinski-Herzog collaborations.
Quite often you will see the name Klaus Kinski listed in film credits in a box, presumably to highlight the importance of his appearance and his status as a world famous, respected actor. In Footprints Klaus was not the only star – Caterina Boratto had appeared in 8½, Juliet of the Spirits, and Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom; Florinda Bolkan in Candy, Flavia, and Le mouton enragé; and Peter McEnery had appeared in Beat Girl, Entertaining Mister Sloane and, um… – but nonetheless, even with such a short on-screen time, Klaus was listed with great importance: