Normally depicting the kind of cruelty that children are capable of is limited to works of fantasy such as William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Maladolescenza, a German-Italian production from 1977, however, deals with it in a way that is powerfully real showing in graphic terms adolescent bullying and use of sex as an instrument of domination. Because of its depictions of children in sexual situations, however, it has been banned in many countries, most recently in Germany in 2006. While I'm not entirely clear about the purpose and intent of the director, I did not find it to be any more salacious than the films of Larry Clark and even more beautifully realized and honest. Please be advised, however, that Maladolescenza is a very disturbing film and is not recommended for those offended by cruelty to animals (in this case a bird) or children presented in the nude and in threatening situations.
Set to an original score by Pippo Caruso based on medieval songs and dances, the film takes place in a brooding forest that holds the ruins of an ancient city. There are only three actors in the film and they deliver memorable performances. Two adolescents, Fabrizio (Martin Loeb) and Laura (Lara Wendel), live close to the edge of the forest and spend their summer holidays playing together as they have for many years. 12-year old Laura is in love with Fabrizio and teases him sexually but he responds only by taunting and frightening her. Like most bullies, however, he knows just when to let up in order to reassure his victim and give her a false sense of security. When the two discover the mysterious old city, Fabrizio declares himself to be king, but in order for Laura to be queen, she must first be able to win the cruel tests he has devised.
Among these are having a snake thrown on top of you as you lay on the ground and being chased by a snarling dog through the woods. Laura, like many willing victims, proclaims her trust in Fabrizio in spite of his sadism and his killing of her pet bird. When they at last make love together, however, it is done with tenderness and the film shows Fabrizio as good hearted when it suits his own purposes. When a new 13-year old girl, Sylvia (Eva Ionesco), joins the group on the invitation of two friends, things do not work to Laura's advantage. Sylvia, unlike Laura, is manipulative and cold and soon she and Fabrizio join forces to humiliate and frighten Laura, at one time compelling her to run through the woods while they shoot bows and arrows at her while wearing terrifying masks.
Realizing that Fabrizio and Sylvia have fallen for each other, Laura heartbreakingly begins to dress and act like Sylvia to win back Fabrizio's affection but without success. As the summer nears an end, Fabrizio is determined that Sylvia will never leave him alone and the result is a senseless tragedy that could have been easily averted. Although the setting is idyllic, under the skillful direction of Pier Murgia, Maladolescenza maintains a constant atmosphere of impending threat. While the story can be seen as a metaphor for the confusing currents of puberty, it can also be interpreted as symbolic of the loss of innocence and the misdirection of sexual energy into avenues of power and domination, perhaps an underlying theme in the history of the Third Reich.
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