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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

THE ALCOVE -- DVD Review by Porfle

Originally posted on 2/21/10
Prolific exploitation director Joe D'Amato, whose many films include around sixteen entries in the "Emanuelle" series with Laura Gemser, places the celebrated sex star in a unique and strange little tale with THE ALCOVE, aka L'alcova (1984). I've rarely bothered watching this kind of stuff on Cinemax or The Playboy Channel because I usually find it pretty boring, but this one's worth the effort.

In 1930s England, Alessandra (Lilli Carati) is in no hurry for her adventurer husband Elio (Al Cliver) to return from the Zulu war because she's been having a torrid lesbian affair with his assistant, Wilma (Annie Belle). When Elio does show up at last, he has a big surprise--a dark-skinned slave girl named Zerbal (Laura Gemser) given to him by a tribal chief in payment for a debt.

Hostile toward her at first, Alessandra grows increasingly attracted to, and finally obsessed with, the exotic and mysterious Zerbal. A jealous Wilma and a marginalized Elio find the ill-disguised affair intolerable, but this is nothing compared to the ultimate revenge that the devious Zerbal has planned for everyone involved.

THE ALCOVE is languidly-paced and takes some time to get into, but it caught my interest once I settled into the story. We're not given much indication at first how things will progress beyond the usual sordid domestic conflicts, until the slowly unfolding plot finally gives way to some pretty bizarre developments--including a murder plot, a surprising exchange of power, and a brutal rape caught on film for financial gain. By the time the somewhat abrupt but satisfying ending came, I felt the time I'd invested in this film to be worthwhile.

Joe D'Amato displays a pleasing directorial style and the cinematography is rather nice, especially during the many well-staged softcore sex scenes. These are quite erotic and are incorporated into the story so that they seem neither overlong nor superflous. When Elio's sensitive young son Furio (Roberto Caruso) returns home on leave from the Navy and falls in love with the older Wilma, his tentative romantic overture toward her is handled with a soft touch. The rest of the sexual encounters between Elio, Alessandra, and Zerbal, and eventually the on-camera violation, exude a sick but strangely compelling air of illicit lust and perversion.

I never found Laura Gemser all that attractive myself, but her fans should be happy to see her in such an interesting role which requires her to be naked for most of her screen time. She's very good at conveying not only Zerbal's earthy strangeness but also the growing defiance and unnerving malevolence bubbling beneath the surface. The character is memorable and Gemser makes the most of it with a subtly impressive performance.

At first, Lilli Carati didn't appeal to me all that much either, mainly due to her distasteful character, but I began to grow quite fond of seeing her lounging around naked. She does a good job in her role as does the lovely Annie Belle as Wilma, who has a very strong sexual appeal similar to that of Velma from "Scooby-Doo." Despite her faults, she was the one character besides Furio that I had any sympathy for. As the husband, Al Cliver mercifully remains clothed throughout his well-modulated performance, expressing Elio's growing detachment, jaded decadence, and casual moral corruption.

The DVD from Severin Films presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital mono. Print quality is mostly good and the English dubbing isn't too bad. Extras include a trailer and a jovial ten-minute interview with D'Amato, who's fun to listen to even though his English is rather hard to decipher.

With its fairly opulent locations, above-average production values, and convincing period atmosphere, THE ALCOVE is a pleasantly perverse exercise in refined art-house sleaze. Stick with the slow-fuse plot and its numerous sexual diversions and you may find the startling ending to be as memorable as I did. Oh yeah, and if you figure out what an "alcove" has to do with any of it, let me know.


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