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The Key (1983)
"La chiave" (original title)

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A husband and wife lock their diaries in a drawer and also know that they read each other's entries, a device which takes them from one sexual encounter to another.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Teresa Rolfe
Franco Branciaroli ...
Laszlo Apony
Barbara Cupisti ...
Lisa Rolfe
Maria Grazia Bon ...
Gino Cavalieri ...
Don Rusetto
Piero Bortoluzzi ...
Memo Longobardi
Irma Veithen ...
Milly Corinaldi ...
Giovanni Michelagnoli ...
Dr. Fano
Armando Marra
Eolo Capritti
Maria Pia Colonnello
Edgardo Fugagnoli
Luciano Gasper


A husband and wife lock their diaries in a drawer and also know that they read each other's entries, a device which takes them from one sexual encounter to another.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance


See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

19 October 1983 (Italy)  »

Also Known As:

A Chave do Ciúme  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


This movie was passed for classification and release in Britain by the British Board of Film Censors with only minor cuts. See more »


In the scene Laszlo shows Nino how to use an instant camera. That was not possible in the period the story takes place (Mussolini's fascist Italy). They are using a Polaroid Land Camera model 95 and its production was from 1948 to 1953. See more »


Dr. Fano: Don't forget that coitus, as any medical book will tell you, is risky in your condition.
Nino Rolfe: The risk of leaving while coming, eh?
See more »


Referenced in Rewind This! (2013) See more »

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User Reviews

An absolutely amazing adaptation of Tanizaki's classic novel about dying passion!
20 November 2005 | by (Denver, Colorado) – See all my reviews

Even though the gig on the ill-fated "Caligula" was a catastrophe waiting to happen, at least in the end Il Maestro Tinto Brass acquired the funding for his dream project, a cinematic adaptation of Junichiro Tanizaki's "The Key." Now, I've read the book after seeing the film, which really made me appreciate the hard work Brass put into the script, since the novel was virtually impossible to turn into a movie. After all, let's face it. There is no plot. Tanizaki's "The Key" is a clever, satirical insight on what it is like to be stuck in an awkward, fading marriage and divorce is impossible due to tradition. The book takes two different points of view, from the husband and the wife in form of several diary entries. It basically reveals their thoughts as the marriage slowly disintegrates with the husband's declining health and the wife's growing repulsion of having sexual relations with him. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now, don't get me wrong, the material is perfect for a satirical novella, but as far as movie material goes, it's rather dull and there's not much to adapt, but this is where Brass' genius comes in.

First, the story is shifted from fifties Tokyo to a pre-war Venice, which turns the story in to a sort of a mirror of current event, where the characters are slowly overwhelmed with decadence, just as their country and government. It should also be worthy of note if this film was done by any other director, the pre-war Italian politics would eventually overshadow the main plot, but Brass keeps it skillfully in the background. The political agenda is ever present, but does not disrupt the general storyline.

Another great change Brass did with the script is slightly altering the characters. In the book, the husband is dirty old man with a foot fetish, while the wife is a whiny hypochondriac. It was fun to read the "diaries" of such characters, but I'd rather not watch them bicker on the screen for two hours. Here, the husband is a somewhat eccentric gentlemen, filled with joie de vivre and with only one fetish; his wife's gorgeous body, which he hardly ever seen throughout their lengthy marriage. The wife is now a strong, intelligent woman, somewhat confused and caught off guard when her repressed sexuality begins to break free of its confines.

All these changes make the story great for a cinematic treatment, yet it retains the general storyline of Tanizaki's novella quite faithfully.

After many years of a typical, old fashioned marriage, Professor Nino Rolfe tries to break his wife Teresa free of her sexual modesty by writing his intimate desires in diary, which he then secretly plants in various locations for her to "accidently" stumble upon. She does the same, and a sexual game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Once again, Tinto Brass out-does himself with the erotic content. All the sex scenes are touching, affectionate and somewhat melancholy, perfectly capturing the mood and tone of the film. They never feel forced, on the contrary, most of the time they drive the story foreword and reveal many details about the characters.

Not much can be said about the acting, all of the actors give a superb job. Stefania Sandrelli's cynical, subtle portrayal of Teresa might seem as "wooden" to some people, but they are just not looking too deeply. Frank Finlay gives an awesome over-the-top performance as an older man, still desiring the carnal pleasures of life, but is is unable to due to his declining health, therefore he is stuck living out his fantasies by constructing his wife's sexual odyssey with their fanatical Fascist sympathizing daughter's naive fiancée, played with great wit by Brass regular, Franco Branciarolli.

With "The Key," Tinto Brass directs with such restrained skill and precision that was missing from most of his previous films. The "free flow" and improvisation of his previous works is all but vanished. Now we have a carefully constructed film filled with exhaustively planned out camera work, editing techniques and color palettes. Speaking of which, this film's brownish tint has to be seen to be believed, no other film has ever achieved such a great effect. Silvano Ippoliti is truly one of the best cinematographers of our times, he will be sorely missed.

"The Key" is a masterpiece of eroticism and should go down in history as one of the best novel-to-film adaptations ever made.

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