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Friday, January 22, 2010
If nothing else, Walerian Borowczyk's French-Italian historical sex film ART OF LOVE (1983) is worth watching simply to gaze upon the voluptuous, Rubenesque beauty Marina Pierro in various forms of undress. The film grabbed my attention right off the bat by showing her luxuriating in a clear glass bathtub during the titles, an image we'll get to see several more times along with other arresting views of her ample and curvaceous physique. Unfortunately, in order to do so, you have to watch the movie.
It's the year 8 A.D., and Roman poet and love-advice expert Ovid (Massimo Girotti) is holding lectures for men and women based on his three-part poem of seduction and love, Ars Amandi ("The Art of Love"). During these lengthy, rambling monologues, we see his teachings being followed by his various students, including Claudia, the unfaithful wife of Roman soldier Macarius (Michele Placido), and her young lover Cornelius, who looks like a late-60s pop idol.
Their heated trysts offer most of the entertainment to be found in this rambling, often incoherent narrative. In one scene, a sick Claudia is tended to by Cornelius according to Ovid's sage advice: "Bring to her at times an old lady who, with trembling hands, will carry eggs and sulfur to purify the room and bed." I think the movie is trying to be funny when Claudia chokes and gags on the sulfur smoke as the old lady starts throwing eggs at the walls. But it's played so straight I'm just not sure.
Other characters include Claudia's faithful African servant and confidant Sepora (Mireille Pame), who likes to fellate a bronze phallus that she keeps in a cabinet, and Macarius' porky mom Clio (Laura Betti), who likes to poke her servants with pins despite Ovid's explicit admonitions and sometimes has the blonde fright wig snatched off her head by a pesky cockatoo. And then there's the barbaric Roman general Laurentius, whose abuse of his cowering wife Modestina includes beating her and locking her in a dog cage.
That highly unpleasant subplot doesn't have much to do with anything, but neither does most of the seemingly random action that occurs during the course of the film. There's a tame orgy sequence about midway through that consists of people running around half-naked and what appears to be scenes from another film spliced in (apparently this is the "restored" orgy footage mentioned in the DVD notes).
The sparse plot is padded to the gills with whatever footage director Borowczyk felt like shooting at the time, including endless stolen moments between forbidden lovers and several sequences that don't make a whole lot of sense (a man gleefully chomps a live goldfish, a woman fondles a marble horse's genitals, etc). One of these is Ovid's story of a love-starved woman who disguises herself as a cow in order to be serviced by a bull. No, I'm not making that up.
Besides a number of lovely vignettes in which Marina Pierro is meticulously photographed with the care and attention of an ardent admirer--my favorite parts of the movie--the camerawork and editing are often as shaky and choppy as the plot. To make things worse, Luis Bacalov's musical score sounds like the same enervating snatch of elevator music played over and over. I do like the natural lighting and the authentic Roman locations, and some of the performances are pretty good if you can get past the bad dubbing.
Ovid's endless blather quickly wears thin, though, as most of the film is accompanied by such turgid poetry as: "Do not allow useless modesty to withhold the magic of your caresses. You will see your beloved's eyes film over with a sheen of tremulous and dainty lust, as the sun's rays rise back from the surface of the placid pond." The rest of the dialogue is littered with such gems as "Are you happy with your parrot, Claudia?" and "Swear on the privates of your favorite god!", and while the action often resembles "A Mediterranean Night's Sex Comedy", the overall mood of the film is rather dire.
The DVD from Severin Films is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, dubbed in English. Image quality is fair, though somewhat washed-out. The sole extra is a trailer.
After trudging my way through ART OF LOVE, which seems much longer than it is, I felt as though I'd escaped from it. The final minutes do boast an unexpected twist that flies in from out of left field, but like the rest of the story it has little impact. (A couple of shots in this sequence contain a strange, unidentified shape silhouetted at the bottom of the screen--what the hell is it?) As for Ovid--in accordance with history, he finally has his act shut down by the Roman government for promoting adultery, with the resulting raid coming none too soon to suit me.
Buy it at Amazon.com