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Since I'm doing a refreshment course in Italian at la Dante Alighieri
here in Buenos Aires at the moment, I am keeping up to date with the
Italian cinema --old and new-- watching almost one movie a day from
their fantastic cinemateca collection.
This time I saw "La donna scimmia", from 1964, and 34 years after its production, it still keeps a surprising freshness and novelty. Annie Girardot was an extremely good looking woman then and yet, they managed with the full make up of a bearded woman, to almost conceal that fact (almost, because she had a heady mouth and a magnificent classic profile).
Her character is enormously pathetic --as with "XXY", the Argentinian movie about hermaphrodism- since not only her face, but her whole body is covered with hair (a 'beast', a 'monster', as they say talking about her problem in front of her as if she didn't have any kind of feelings), and you are on her side from the very introduction of the character, which is beautifully done.
She is so vulnerable, so hurt, obviously since the moment she was born. Unfortunately the script is very sketchy about the characters, and all of a sudden she looses this primitiveness to the point of becoming a sultry man-eater (on a dreadful show that she and her husband organized for a Parisian night club, since by now she's a sort of 'celebrity') but no woman with her upbringing could ever pull out such a bag of tricks --like they say about Marylin Monroe's character in "Niagara", when she appears with that red dress "Honey, to wear a dress like that, you have to start laying your plans when you were three years old!".
The scene of their wedding --organized by her showman--husband-manager-- is extraordinary, this sort of a monkey dressed up in full white regalia, veil included, singing with a microphone in hand "La novia" (The Bride) an extremely popular Argentinian song at the time, by Palito Ortega, while a crowd of smiling Italians suffocates them when coming out of the church.
A peasant woman stands in front of her imploring: "You are a Virgin!!" "You are capable of performing miracles!!" and the rest of the crowd trying to touch her beard, her veil, etc. The premises of the script are superb for a remake. Here we see again how difficult it is for the "Different" to be accepted.
We see throughout the film how repulsive is the character played by Ugo Tognazzi, a man completely unscrupulous, but the last scene of this film unveils him as utterly despicable. Magnificent actor Tognazzi. Splendid black and white photography. The music fits the goings on like a glove. The editing impeccable. Great director.
Can the human greed make use of a woman as well as Antonio Focaccia
does? Well, Marco Ferreri says it does!
The plot: a man, Antonio Focaccia (played by Ugo Tognazzi), meets a woman, Maria (played by Annie Girardot), full of hair on her body. Antonio makes Maria to become a freak to earn a lot of money, and he gets married with her, too. Their business have a great success, but......
I was struck by Antonio's cruelty and wickedness and by ability of Marco Ferreri to get ahead with plot.
A good movie.
A competition entry in Cannes from Italy in 1964, this Marco Ferreri
Black-and-White satire cashes in on the real-life story of Julia
Pastrana (1834-1860), an indigenous woman from Mexico, whose face and
body was covered with straight black hair due to an undiagnosed genetic
condition, and was exploited in freak shows as a hybrid between an ape
and a woman.
The story is transposed to Naples, where Antonio (Tognazzi), a street-smart showman, alights on a hair-covered Maria (Girardot) in a convent (the script conveniently skates over her provenance by claiming her as an orphan), and takes her in for public exhibition as the so-called "ape woman", but what Maria is is nothing like an ape, she is simply an extra hirsute woman, no feral predisposition or mondo sauciness whatsoever, she is very aware of her unorthodox appearance and never expects a life of normalcy, at any rate, she tries to please Antonio in their act because it is their bread-and- butter, even reluctantly apes the behavior of a chimpanzee in the zoo. When a suspect rich man wants to study her and over-insists that she must retain her virginity, an upstanding Maria rebuffs the deal whilst Antonio is much interested in the financial gain.
Imposed by the convent, the bachelor Antonio has to marry Maria to keep her with him, up till then Maria has developed a gentle affection (awakening sexuality in a more blunt language) towards Antonio whereas the latter still chastely intends to remain their relationship completely business- like, only to soon to surrender in sharing their tiny bed. A sortie in Paris, working their duo-act in a strip club, ensues and ends up with Maria becoming pregnant, after the struggle between abortion and otherwise, Pastrana's sad denouement is faithfully imitated into the movie with an uninviting coda where stillborn, death and embalmment are the keywords, all of a sudden levity turns into a biting critique of humanity, Ferreri never compromised in that regard.
Basically a two-hander, Tognazzi is well in his element with his slick impression and occasionally, considerable benevolence seeps through his non-threatening nonchalance. Girardot, on the other hand, is hampered in the slipshod make-up (understandably, the movie is half-an-century old), her hairy physiognomy is nonetheless non-too-startling so as to pander to a wider audience, not to mention a stripping sequence to gratifying male gaze. As a satire, we must admire Ferreri's guts to preserve "the phenomenon is eternal" sting, but as a cinematic creation, THE APE WOMAN is a bog-standard treatment gussied up by an alluring premise it short-changes in realisation.
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