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THE FANTASIES OF A SENSUOUS WOMAN (Paolo Spinola, 1969) **1/2
I followed Salvatore Samperi's MOTHER'S HEART (1969) with this equally unknown item, which has more in common with it than would at first appear (i.e. the presence of the same actress, Carla Gravina even if it's actually one she seems to hate and would rather forget about!); the film is more of a bourgeois melodrama though still featuring the 'obligatory' political statements of the time. It's based on a novel by one of Italy's major literary figures, Alberto Moravia: his existentialist work was fashionable during this particular era in cinema in view of such adaptations as CONTEMPT (1963) and THE EMPTY CANVAS (1964); I own both of these but, while I love the former, have yet to check out the latter.
Incidentally, the movie is perhaps best ranked as "Arthouse" but it's still listed in the indispensable "Stracult" book on which author Marco Giusti (whom I saw numerous times at the 2004 Venice Film Festival) is particularly hard on, calling it "terrible" and citing "extreme boredom" as its main offense! The narrative details the fading relationship between a husband (Silvano Tranquilli) and wife (Giovanna Ralli); by the way, the original title (of book and film) translates to THE INVISIBLE WOMAN obviously, it has nothing at all to do with the 1940 spoof on the Universal horror series! a fact which is treated more than figuratively here, so that we get the man literally looking through his spouse (at one point, even describing in detail a stain on the wall which her body is actually blocking!) and virtually ignoring her at every turn (foreshadowing in a way the would-be missing child episode from Luis Bunuel's THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY ]. One aspect that is confusing until the final revelation (but more on this later) is the ambiguous presence of Carla Gravina in the couple's household: she seems to be a glorified maid, yet is never really considered an inferior she may not be invited to the Opera with them, but does make it to society parties and private gatherings (which often descend into displays of hedonism); this was, after all, a time in which liberal attitudes were gaining the upper hand everywhere!
The film tends to wander and can, therefore, lead to stretches of tedium but it's handled with some style (which probably has more to do with the period in which it came out rather than the director's individual skill, whom I wasn't familiar with in the first place) and the performances are pretty good (though Giusti had personally found Ralli's studied approach to the role risible). Besides, the two leading ladies both of whom appear in the nude look divine throughout (their scenes together, then, emanate a distinct erotic charge) and, once again, we get a fine score courtesy of the ubiquitous Ennio Morricone! Which brings us to the climax: there had already been traces of surrealism in the film blurring fact and fiction a' la Bunuel's BELLE DE JOUR (1967; whose influence on this one is palpable) in the incidents where Ralli spies on Tranquilli in bed with Gravina only to wake up and find he's always been there beside her and, later, Ralli shooting Gravina out of jealousy during a hunting party (a sequence which is a clear nod to Jean Renoir's THE RULES OF THE GAME  down to the 'accidental' victim) before we realize that they're still on their way to the appointed meeting place but the ending (so as not to blatantly spell out the nature of this incredible twist, I'll just say that it anticipates FIGHT CLUB  by 30 years!) must have seemed highly preposterous at the time.
In the end, neither MOTHER'S HEART nor THE FANTASIES OF A SENSUOUS WOMAN (a suggestively lurid title it doesn't really live up to) incidentally, apart from co-star and composer, both also share scriptwriter Dacia Maraini can be considered exactly good films (hence the "Average" rating for both), but each emerges a definite curio for a variety of reasons.
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