Archive for September 3, 2022

It’s Complicated

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2022 by dcairns

I haven’t read any Alberto Moravia but I love Bertolucci’s film of THE CONFORMIST — I notice I placed it in my top ten. Damiano Damiani was obviously a fan too, basing two of his films on works by the writer. First was LA NOIA/THE EMPTY CANVAS (1963). A VERY COMPLICATED GIRL (1969), “freely adapted” from Moravia’s The March Back, stars Catherine Spaak, Jean Sorel and Florinda Bolkan and is… very interesting.

Sorel’s character, also called Alberto, falls for Spaak’s, a pop art painter — the film is very mod in style, obviously updating its source in a way LA NOIA didn’t feel any need for. It has aspects of a giallo, mingling mod and murder, but isn’t really a mystery and doesn’t have a big enough body count to quite fit.

It must have been quite amazing to have been following the cinema from 67 to 70, the way censorship in the west was swept back so rapidly. Catherine Spaak was someone who rode that wave courageously — when she made her Hollywood debut in HOTEL (1967), nudity in commercial cinema was barely a thing. Here she’s full-frontal, and THE LIBERTINE (1968) she tries out a panoply of kinks. According to your viewpoint, this transition must have seemed like either a glorious liberation or the end of civilisation as we know it.

The most surprising scene comes when Spaak’s character tells Sorel’s that she was sexually abused by a relative. This is played not as a tragedy or crime or confession, but as an attempted seduction. Sorel accepts it that way with apparent enthusiasm. What was most striking to me is that the exact same thing happens in THE CONFORMIST. Stefania Sandrelli tells the late Jean-Louis Trintignant about being raped by her uncle as they travel by train (through the miracle of rear projection) on their honeymoon, and he role-plays the part of the uncle as she describes it. In AVCG Spaak’s story is about her stepmother, Bolkan, and it comes to assume a greater importance in the plot as Sorel seemingly loses his mind, but it’s otherwise very close — makes me think Moravia must have experienced something of the kind. It had not occurred to me (call me naive) that this was a thing — lovers sharing abuse stories as part of their fantasy life.

Balkan begins her transgressive, psychotronic career just as she means to go on, playing not only a bisexual child abuser but one who models the glue-on bikini. Sorel is… interesting. He’s the husband in BELLE DE JOUR, a strangely passive doll-man, here with the addition of designer stubble/very short beard that gives him an Action Man quality. Rather than suggesting depths of neurosis like Trintignant, he suggests undiscovered shallows. He’s more like Stephen Forsyth’s protag “I am a psychopath” of HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON. With a clever, intense actor like Trintignant even a terrible character becomes somehow compelling, even sympathetic. Sorel’s just causes increasing dismay as his actions and life spiral out of control. We had thought Spaak’s character, and certainly Bolkan’s were the problematic ones. But Sorel is the one leading us off a cliff.

The relationship starts kida dark but soon is almost in Moors murders territory. Had it continued along this dark path, the movie would be a unique giallo and better known. Instead it choses multiple strange pathways, and is generically undefinable, entirely its own thing. With a delirious pop score by Fabio Fabor, and production design by Damiani himself along with regular collaborator Umberto Turco.

Pretty compelling, weird stuff.