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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Walerian Borowczyk has established an unenviable niche for himself in
film history by applying the creativity of an avant-garde artist to the
mundane world of sex movies. ARS AMANDI is one of his most pretentious
and least successful efforts (so it's no surprise that I'm the first to
waste my breath reviewing it on IMDb).
Film festival habitués and serious fans of erotica know the drill: when a respected filmmaker shoots a dirty film it's art: no others need apply for that sort of upgrade. And so Borowczyk, like several other top- notch international talents on the festival circuit/merry-go-round like Miklos Jancso, Nagisa Oshima, Marco Bellocchio, Catherine Breillat and even a wannabe like Michael Winterbottom, get mucho attention and even a few hard-earned bucks when they take a dip (or sometimes wallow) in explicit sexual content.
This very poorly made sort-of movie based on the poetry of Ovid is truly a chore to watch, as Borowczyk's beautiful imagery and palpable eroticism from earlier works like LA BETE and IMMORAL TALES have been replaced by what plays like out-takes from some misguided Jancso historical/political/porn co-production. I will try to impart some of the flavor of what WB has failed to coalesce into a coherent whole, but you have to sit through this baby (preferably trapped in a real-life movie theater) to properly appreciate its ineptness.
SPOILERS ALERT: BIggest problem is Borowcyzk's use of a hoary framing device which is guaranteed to annoy the viewer. After nearly an hour and a half of being trapped in Rome 8 A.D. with a confusing and confused bunch of European actors (some talented, some not), WB springs on us a present- day "it was only a dream" wakeup call for heroine Marina Pierro in modern Italy, driving towards the French border in her Land Rover (yes, a device usually relegated to grade-Z horror movies or THE WIZARD OF OZ).
Until she become a modern woman who like Dorothy remembers all those characters from her previous life/adventure, Pierro is basically a horny Roman wife who lusts after young stud Cornelius (Philippe Taccini, an actor who like Pierro never made the grade in show biz), whilst her soldier hubby, the gifted Michele Placido (who alternates serious assignments with exploitation films) goes to and from wars in Gaul.
Now it takes some gall for WB to cast Pasolini's prime collaborator Laura Betti as a wig- addicted mama to Placido. Other principal players include the wonderful Milena Vukotic, embarrassing as a neighbor who also has to suffer through simulated sex scenes, another failed thesp, the beautiful Simonetta Stefanelli (one-shot success in THE GODFATHER PART 2) as a pregnant neighbor, Mireille Pame, the black servant who preys to the god Priapus (definitely one of WB's favorite deities) and a cockatoo named Telefo. Since Telefo can talk he has been designated to guard (or fink on) Pierro's fidelity by a not-so-brainy Placido in what passes for WB's screenplay.
Scenes are a hodge-podge of clumsily directed and painfully low-budget horsing around with precious little of the promised sex footage. True, Pierro either delivers a private parts closeup (or a double does) for nostalgia buffs of the bushy early '70s, and WB has two very fake scenes lamely depicting (or at least alluding visually to) his favorite topic of woman/beast relations, quite a come-down from his fabulous work in this under-tilled genre with LA BETE.
I left out Massimo Girotti, whose achievements in Italian cinema are crucial, from early Visconti to prime Bertolucci. He pontificates as Ovid giving amazing misogynistic lectures on -- you guessed it, the Art of Love, until Placido is angry enough at Pierro to have his soldiers arrest him and all the ladies who follow his teachings.
Entire film has one quality image: Pierro in her glass bath framed by fish in their adjoining tank. But WB saves tons of ridiculous exposition for the Land Rover scenes, even resorting to a handy newspaper found by Placido (a priest rather than soldier in the modern "story") to tell us poor movie fans what this nonsense was really all about.
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