Saturday, February 23, 2008

THE EROTICIST (1972) d. Lucio Fulci

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

There is a fascinating difference between the average American sex comedy and a sex comedy made in Europe. While there was the occasionally subtle or complex American offering, most followed the rule of three S’s; make it straightforward, simple and stupid. European erotic escapades were just that, whimsical farces layered with social or political commentary that made them not just deeper than their mundane American cousins, but a lot better too. THE EROTICIST (aka THE SENATOR LIKES WOMEN) was directed and co-written by the infamous Lucio Fulci, and like some his westerns, this film has a lot going for it.

THE EROTICIST is the story of Senator Giancinto Puppis and his attempts to become President of Italy. During the complicated Parliamentary election process, it becomes clear that Senator Puppis is embroiled in a sex scandal due to his penchant for grasping the buttocks of women. Before long, the Senator’s rise to power becomes enmeshed in the inveigling for influence of the Italian Police, the Military, the Clergy and the Mafia. Player’s hands wash others’ hands while scratching backs and slipping on kid gloves and after a while it is evident that no one is pure anymore in the filthy game of politics.

Taken just as a sex charade, THE EROTICIST is funny in and of itself. Watching Senator Puppis, played by Lando Buzzanca, with his sweating face and bulging eyes as he tries in vain to stop himself from groping the women around him is wonderfully tongue in cheek. Underneath the fa├žade of sex comedy is a biting political satire where not one icon of Italian society is safe. There are the ludicrous machinations of all manner of clerics, who labor to fuel the rise of their hand-crafted candidate, while at the same time are thoroughly in bed with murderous gangsters “canonizing” the potentially uncomfortable witnesses to “perversion”. While all this is occurring, the police and the army smell “coup d’etat” and can’t keep their fingers out of the dirty pie. Lust for power, lust for privilege and lust for money are portrayed as far more serious sins than the lust for women in this smart, silly and sardonic morality play. Each character is a fabulously funny archetype and their unpleasant grotesqueness is reminiscent of medieval cartoon figures carved in their perversity on Monastic cornices and friezes.

Added to the razor sharp story and finely honed performances, THE EROTICIST is a feast for the eyes as well. The sumptuous interior sets and picturesque exteriors, beautifully restored by Severin Films are replete with bright colors, crisp lines, cunning camera angles and superb cinematography. Even the timelessly elegant fashion styles of the rich and powerful were considered carefully when this film was shot, so that watching it more than 35 years later; this film does not feel dated. Rather it is the opposite, since the cynical eye of this movie is just as relevant now. Leaders today have learned nothing from the scandals of yesteryear and the abuses of power that were so brilliantly mocked in THE EROTICIST are still taking place.

The extras menu of THE EROTICIST is small but splendid. A 42 minute featurette “A History of Censorship” with the star of film, Lando Buzzanca, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi and makeup artist Gianneto De Rossi abounds with interviews on more than just the subject of censorship. It is a frank look back at Italy, Italian cinema and the film making process that will delight any serious movie lover. THE EROTICIST can be watched in Italian with or without English subtitles, depending on your language skills. More than anything, the chance to see a supremely colorful film shown in its correct aspect ratio is the real prize of THE EROTICIST.

Americans never really got it when it came to sex comedies, and we still don’t today. In a fun film like EUROTRIP, there are some lip-smackingly salacious scenes, but as is all too often the case, a romance and tender-heartedness has to eclipse the plot. European sex comedies were about more than sex and they rarely devolved into an unwanted romance. They applied coat after coat of thinly veiled critique until what emerged was something akin the theatre on the Big Screen. The promise of naughtiness may have brought you to see the movie, but watching a film like THE EROTICIST left you a bit savvier by the end. There aren’t many American sex comedies that can say they did that.

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