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Anna Maria Ferrero
This homage to Italy’s “White Telephone” films (sophisticated comedy-dramas revolving around working-class girls) of the 1930s gives Agostina Belli her best role – going from chambermaid to prostitute to singer to film-star to mistress of ‘Il Duce’! – for which she received a special David Di Donatello award, the Italian equivalent of the Oscar. Incidentally, the English title evokes memories of Octave Mirbeau’s ‘scandalous’ novel “Diary Of A Chambermaid” – thrice brought to the screen (in Hollywood in 1946 by Frenchman Jean Renoir, in France in 1964 by Spaniard Luis Bunuel and in 1974, typically as a sexploitationer, by prolific “Euro-Cult” exponent Jess Franco: the latter being the only one I haven’t watched and don’t own in any form). At other points in the narrative, the film also reminded me of A STAR IS BORN (itself filmed several times) and BELLE DE JOUR (1967), Bunuel’s celebrated classy treatment of prostitution…
The rest of the cast here is interesting: Cochi Ponzoni is Belli’s unlucky boyfriend, sent to various war-fronts but always turning up to curse and/or embarrass the heroine; Vittorio Gassman as an ageing matinée idol of the silver screen whose speech impediment forces him to be dubbed (a character inspired perhaps by John Gilbert); Renato Pozzetto is a Fascist who lands Belli into a bordello run by is own mother!; Lino Toffolo is a musician she meets at the whorehouse with a peculiar idiosyncrasy which sees him dressed in a baby outfit and asking Belli to bottle-feed him!; Alvaro Vitali (future protagonist of the low-brow “Pierino” sex-comedy series) is also taken to the joint – by his own father, who’s blissfully unaware of the boy’s homosexual tendencies; and Ugo Tognazzi as a hunchbacked scavenger whose specialty is turning over Jews to the Fascists! Its meticulous recreation (especially the Venice locations, which include the Palazzo del Cinema, as well as the Excelsior Hotel my brother and I visited a number of times – clandestinely, I hasten to add – in September 2004!) makes for a good-looking movie further blessed with a typically nice Armando Trovajoli score.
However, despite its generally comic tone, the film is also effective as an expose' of Fascism: at its most outrageous when Gassman plays a prank on his industrialist guests by faking a news flash in which it’s stated that the Government will be taking over all private enterprises – only to have one of them asking to be excused and proceeds to shoot himself in the next room!; Gassman’s own fortunes are dissipated with a spell in a private clinic (due to substance abuse), and he turns up to Belli’s chagrin during a party inaugurating the coalition of German and Italian Fascists; his own demise is poignant as, while playing a Fascist in a comeback role, he is mistaken for the genuine article by a band of partisans – they play at executing him via firing squad, but he actually expires out of sheer fright! Finally, I should point out that the picture features a remarkably profane script which renders it particularly hilarious to those fluent in the language (and are of the Catholic faith to boot)!
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