With all due respect to director Luigi Bazzoni, Le orme (aka Footprints on the Moon or Primal Impulse) is held together entirely by Vittorio Storaro’s immaculate images, which in their beauty and depth rival anything the master contributed to Last Tango in Paris or Apocalypse Now. Bazzoni’s story and mis-en-scene amble forward competently, but Storaro’s creamy, soft light redeems an uninspired scenario and preserves an ambivalent lead performance. The film and its images run separate courses through the running time, their aims intersecting often enough but occasionally too disparate in their elegance to resonate. Even when Bazzoni’s dramatic flair fails to engage, every single one of Storaro’s 130,000+ frames invites admiration, effortlessly conjuring mystery with color and composition.
A amnesiac translator struggles to recover several lost days, retracing her steps to an empty seaside resort along the Mediterranean. Everyone she encounters there remembers her—by a different name and style—but she’s unable to produce a memory of her recent visit. Her paranoia grows more intense as she’s revisited by a dream (or was it a film she saw?) in which a crazed German scientist—Klaus Kinski, naturally—strands unwitting astronauts on the lunar surface for some nefarious experiment.
The marooned astronaut waking in a barren, hopeless wasteland quaintly echoes the alienation of a woman adrift from her memory and environment. The setup immediately calls to mind Antonioni, but the potentially gauche introduction of sci-fi elements into an arthouse mood piece ultimately smooth out the film’s pretenses. Ultimately, Storaro’s images provide the film’s weight. He captures the protagonist’s mounting neuroses in static wide shots in which she’s comically reduced against an uncaring landscape more dead blue than vivid green and provides an ironic serenity via soft focus and immaculate lighting to menacing images of a woman gradually losing herself. Footprints makes a compelling argument for Storaro’s inclusion in the encyclopedia of auteurism.
Le Orme shows throughout August 2023 at Spectacle