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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

DVD Review: Italian Sex (Sesso in Testa, 1974)


Italy 1974
Dir: Sergio Ammirata
Screenplay: Sergio Ammirata, Marino Onorati
Starring: Pilar Velázquez, Didi Perego, Mario Carotenuto, Toni Ucci, Lino Banfi, Sergio Ammirata

Cert: NR
Running Time: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Letterboxed Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono Italian
Subtitles: English
Released: Mya Communications
Region: 0 NTSC

The Movie

“The vernacchio is produced by the vibration of the tongue on the lips,” demonstrates the sweaty teacher to his (scantily-clad) student with gusto. If you thought the above referred to a lewd deed, you are symptomatic of the condition affecting most of Italian society according to this 1974 film- a dirty mind, or ‘Sex In The Head’ as the title literally translates. For the gentleman is referring to the creation of a certain type of fart noise, acceptable to be used in the presence of ladies and archbishops. The innuendo is apt: not only does it court a sex-addled imagination but the lip-smacking trumpeting could be seen as an auto-erotic substitute for an oral act of coitus. (If you think I’m delving too deep into the film’s unconscious, feel free to practice your own vernacchio now.) Italian Sex is thus a surreal exposé of the prurient psyche of modern life, the feisty fantasies and pulsing perversity that seep beneath a routine bit of how’s-yer-father. Homoeroticism, sex with nuns, incest, necrophilia; it’s all here in a film that would make Alfred Kinsey blush.

Similar to that prominent sexologist, sociology student Diana Tornetti (Velázquez) has decided to research the wanton desires of Italian men for her PhD dissertation. Her methodology is one of strenuous fieldwork, going undercover as a prostitute for three eventful months. Before she can be awarded her doctorate, she must relate her exploits to an academic board, comprised of a flustered vicar, a monocled aristocrat and one prudish woman who chokes violently at the mere mention of the word “enticement”, presided over by the great Italian smut star Lino Banfi. Consequently, her encounters are presented as episodic vignettes as if they were chapters from her thesis. Brimming with colourful characters and bawdy burlesque, Sergio Ammirata’s only film as director (with veteran Fernando Vacanze Per Un Massacro Di Leo providing uncredited ‘academic’ supervision) plays like an Italian version of a British sex romp; heck, it could be called Confessions Of A Post-Grad. Or Carry On Swotting.

Inevitably, the content of her thesis is hit and miss. Some sequences are very funny, if based around a single punch-line: a camp hotel waiter (played by Ammirata himself) only poses as a homosexual so that women will crave sex with him in order to cure him of his ‘deviance’; an impotent Mafioso, Frank, has to slap his women around to protect his macho image; and a decidedly ugly man, who looks like a cross between Frank Zappa and Bruce Forsyth, reveals only after he has had sex with our heroine that the money he proffered was a gift from her mother.

The film is at its best with scenes that rock with a dark undertow below the comic bounce of the carnal capers: a recent widower attempts to seduce Diana while his wife lies embalmed in a coffin next door- when she scarpers he looks at his ex and proclaims, “You’re ruining me even in death, huh? Go to hell twice.” This evidence leads our student to surmise that men take pleasure “to profane every sacred thing”. In another episode, what appears to be a traffic jam turns out to be a queue of men waiting to drill a nun; as she lifts her habit, Ammarita shoots through her legs capturing the look of nervous excitement on the punter’s face. Not only does this link voyeurism with forbidden privilege, but the camera position also reflects Diana’s desire to examine the world from a different angle, one that sprouts from the loins.

The licentious fantasy and libidinous technique on display is crystallised in the performance of Velázquez. Donning multi-coloured wigs and negligees like a hyperactive cabaret star, her energy and humour toward her predicaments is what gives Italian Sex its distinctive honours. As the horrified splutters of the judging panel transform into approving coos, the film itself further loosens up and plunges into manic surrealism: one of the clients is a deranged man in a Mickey Mouse jumper who, it is claimed, has wandered in from another film; Ms. Torrentini acts as a stage manager to a bizarre piece of physical theatre with thriving naked lesbians accompanied by wild animal noises, all watched by a horde of ageing critics, scrutinising the participants through opera glasses and taking detailed notes. Sex is a theatre of the absurd, full of exaggerated role-play, styled (and stylised) perversity, and performed with a cheeky self-awareness.

After Frank has executed his wife-beating charade, he looks into a mirror and blows a raspberry at his own spurious image. Likewise, Italian Sex irreverently trumps a cloud of spittle on the cultural portrait of a wholesome, chaste society. We all secretly enjoy a healthy vibration of the tongue on the lips.

The Disc

Presented in 1.85:1 letterboxed widescreen, the transfer is decent with colours bright and suggestive. Only minor pops and scratches evident from the source material. Contrast is good, with the stylish black and white décor of Diana’s apartment room looking particularly ravishing; however, some of the detail in the darker scenes is fuzzy. Audio-wise, the Dolby Digital mono mix is in Italian with removable subtitles in English. Some of these are riddled with grammatical errors, which add to the sense of chaos: “He took me in a desert place” (she’s not referring to bedding Bedouins). No extras, perhaps unsurprisingly for a release of a fairly niche title.

Reviewed by James Kloda


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