Yuri the pimp is dead and his body has been stuffed into a washing machine …. or has it? The body’s missing. Did the cat eat it? Is someone lying about finding the body? Or is there something else going on?
Those are the questions that are raised by the 1993 Italian film, The Washing Machine. Directed by Ruggero Deodato (of Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park fame), The Washing Machine takes place in Budapest. It tells the story of three sisters. Vida (Katarzyna Figura) is a prostitute. Ludmilla (Barbara Ricci) is a percussionist who often emerges from the shadows, carrying a triangle with her. Maria (Ilaria BorellI), who is also known as Sissy, works with the blind. They all live together in a rather nice, two-story building and they have a washing machine located on the first floor. Yuri (Yorgo Voyagis) is Vida’s pimp and sometime lover. When Via discovers that Yuri has a piece of jewelry with Sissy’s name on it, it leads first to a fight and then to makeup sex in the kitchen, all while Ludmilla watches from the staircase and plays the triangle. Later, Ludmillas calls the police, claiming that she has discovered Yuri’s bloody body in the washing machine.
Inspector Stacev (Philippe Caroit) is sent over to investigate but, by the time he arrives, Yuri’s body has disappeared. There’s a rather self-satisfied black cat wandering about. “Did the cat eat the body?” I asked, just to then have another character in the film suggest the exact same thing. Stacev isn’t sure whether or not Yuri is actually dead but then again, it quickly becomes apparent that Stacev is more interested in the three sisters than he is in solving the case of death of a pimp. Despite the fact that Stacev has a loyal girlfriend named Irina (Claudia Pozzi), he is soon cheating on her with the sisters. When Irina finds out, she commits suicide. Stacev just shrugs it off.
So, you may have guessed that Inspector Stacev is not a particularly likable character. Normally, that might be a problem but it fits right into The Washing Machine‘s chilly view of a world that’s defined and ruled by greed and lust. Set and filmed in Budapest, The Washing Machine is full of shadowy and gothic images. Every location looks as if it’s hiding a hundred secrets and every shadow seems like it’s on the verge of coming to life. An atmosphere of continual menace haunts nearly every frame of The Washing Machine. It helps, of course, to know something about the history of Hungary. The Washing Machine is set just a few years after the collapse of Soviet-style communism in Eastern Europe. The characters in The Washing Machine move, speak, and act like people who lived too long with secrets and paranoia as their most valuable possessions to give them up now.
I liked The Washing Machine. The plot doesn’t make much sense but Deodato does such a good job of creating a sense of dread that it doesn’t have to make sense. A work of existential horror, The Washing Machine takes place in a world that’s governed by chaos and where men like Yuri and Stacev arrogantly assume that their place in society will somehow protect them. In the end, no one is innocent, no one is safe, and willful blindness is the downfall of everyone.