In a year that brought us many throwback horror films — such as James Wan’s Malignant or V/H/S/94 — a small Portuguese film called Name Above Title (it’s original title is Um Fio De Baba Escarlate, translated as “A Scarlet Little Thread”) flew under the radar playing at horror film festivals, such as Nightstream where I was able to catch it.
Heavily inspired by 1970s giallo violence and eroticism, Name Above Title presents a retro look to a modern setting of the beautiful Lisbon, Portugal in a short runtime of only 59 minutes. It follows a charismatic serial killer around the city, crafting a bizarre and unsettling narrative entirely without dialogue, making it a particularly emotive silent film.
With its lack of dialogue, it’s definitely not going to appeal to every horror fan out there, but those who enjoy stylistic, arthouse horror films and violent, ‘70s exploitation films will swoon over this uniquely Portuguese foray into Giallo.
A handsome serial killer (played by Matthieu Charneau) seduces a woman in his car on a moonlit beach before strangling her with his phone charger and stuffing her corpse in his trunk. As he drives through the city, he stops on the road as a woman falls to her death from a roof above right next to him. People gather around them and record as he lifts her head as she whispers something in his ear then passionately kisses her as she dies in his arms. The footage of this encounter spreads and launches the mysterious serial killer into local fame. This is just how Name Above Title begins and goes to some unexpected places by the time it ends.
Even without dialogue, the acting in this is so precise and purposeful that it’s always perfectly clear what the few characters in this film are trying to say. Charneau embodies the sensual, mysterious Gialli murderer, obsessed with his victims as well as himself as he grows in fame. Joana Ribeiro expertly plays all of the killed women in this film, changing her personality and look to almost trick you into thinking it’s different actresses.
The serial killer is seen as very attractive and objectified through the story, bringing to mind society’s fascination with serial killers. As it is, the film opens with a quote from Ted Bundy, often controversial for being perceived as attractive and lusted after despite his atrocities.
The serial killer’s name, Candide, is most likely a reference to Voltaire’s Candide, a satirical story coincidentally inspired by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, a cataclysmic natural disaster that killed 90% of the population of the city and led to a complete religious reversal in Portugal. A heavily Christian country suddenly found it hard to believe in a God that would allow such things to happen. Candide and Name Above Title both end up containing subtle Christian themes as well as satirizing the romantic adventure genre.
The choice to have all the victims played by the same actress also seems ripe for interpretation. Perhaps it comments on the lack of identity murdered women receive compared to their murderers, or simply that the serial killer sees women as all the same, disposable.
Another interesting choice is to make the film dialogue-free, not silent. Combined with the gender dynamics hinted at, the lack of voice could indicate the voice being taken away from victimized women.
These modern issues almost seem out of place in this incredibly anachronistic film, with nods to 1960s Hitchcockian camera work, 1970s exploitation flicks, and a synthy 1980s score.
Perhaps the best part of this film is the look of it. Filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio with mesmerizing cinematography from Vasco Viana, Lisbon becomes a nightmare dream that lends itself to the more abstract ending.
As the second feature of Carlos Conceição, this film stood out as particularly arresting to me and will easily be remembered as one, if not the best of the year personally.
Check out the poster and trailer below.