A young American woman (Sydne Rome) traveling through Italy finds herself in a strange Mediterranean villa where nothing seems right. Her visit becomes an absurd, decadent, oversexed ...
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A young American woman (Sydne Rome) traveling through Italy finds herself in a strange Mediterranean villa where nothing seems right. Her visit becomes an absurd, decadent, oversexed version of "Alice in Wonderland", with Marcello Mastroianni as the maddest of mad hatters and Roman Polanski a kinky March hare.Written by
Dan Navarro <email@example.com>
I watch What?, Roman Polanski's movie about a woman who unintentionally enters into an Italian villa filled with folks that Luis Bunuel might have concocted after a few Martini's, and wonder, what's the point? I suppose it's about collective (and/or random) insanity, and how the most unsuspecting intruder can get wrapped up in the mayhem. Or maybe it's an allegory for the era of 'do what you like' in a morbid paradise in the Italian coast with the rooms and balconies and beaches like another silent character. What is it?
I can wonder this, but what it comes down to is the movie is funny. It's funny because of the extremes Polanski and co-writer Gerard Brach take with characters and specific scenarios. Everybody at this villa, where the protagonist arrives at, is surely demented to one degree or another. There's the pimp, played by Marcello Mastroianni, who loves the feel of crushing ping pong balls with his feet, dressing up as tigers and admirals for sexually sado-masochistic endeavors; there's the guy who plays piano beautifully and doesn't respond when someone talks to him during his incessant playing; there's Polanski himself playing a character named 'Mosquito', a fellow with a fake beard and a strange thing for Sydney Rome's character's jeans, which he steals in her sleep. This doesn't even include random people like the woman walking around naked for no reason.
There is no distinct plot, but rather it follows that illogical line of logic one could find in the Exterminating Angel (or Alice in Wonderland for that matter), or perhaps as just a parody of the creation of a 'sex diary' that Rome carries on her person everywhere. Some lines fly over my head, and others are some of the funniest and most cleverly deranged that Polanski's ever done. There's even time for the villa's wise-old dying patriarch, with his bushy beard and eyebrows who nearly passes on on at a big dinner, only to recover and become with obsessed with Rome's shirt.
This all said, it's not altogether excellent. Rome's performance wavers between competency and total flatness. That might have been what Polanski wanted (she reminded on of a slightly cuter Elizabeth Berkley), but aside from good looks there's not much going on for her here. The good news is the bevy of Italian character players, people one's never seen before (or non-Italian ones like Hugh Griffith), hit their marks and can be hysterical on the whole.
None, however, are quite as good as Mastroianni. As another proof of his genius as an actor, he makes this perverted Don Jaun all his own. He's suave, but in that slimy way, like a permanently libidinous version of his sexual fantasies in 8 1/2. So that his sudden appearances qas he spies on Rome are funny on their own, but one he gets into 'uniforn' in those sex-role play scenes (particularly that tiger, good Lord), or fetishizes that ping pong ball, it's a kind of outrageous perfection.
What? isn't top-shelf Polanski, and there is something to it being unavailable for so long in the Unites States. But if you ca find it, and are at least a decent fan of the director and/or the star, it's a hoot. That's what it is.
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