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Sunday, November 15, 2009

DVD Review: Craving Desire


Italy 1993
Dir: Sergio Martino
Screenplay: Sergio Martino, Maurizio Rasio, Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Vittoria Belvedere, Ron Nummi, Simona Borioni, Andrea Roncato, Serena Grandi, Hal Yamanouchi

Cert: NR
Running Time: 101 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono Italian, Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: N/A
Released: Mya Communications
Region: 0 NTSC

The Film

Skeletons like their closets. For when exhumed they are liable to collapse, shattering the surrounding silence with their spare secrets. Craving Desire opens with the disinterment of a wealthy family’s grand matriarch, as she is moved from tomb to grave. A pair of undertakers tie the yellowed shoulder blades to the ribcage, the long-buried framework now held together by thin strips of ribbon. Once they unravel there will be hell to pay; expect a few broken bones and splintered sockets.

Luigi (Nummi) would appear to be a robust example of youthful bourgeoisie with an executive job, rich fiancée (Cinzia, played with gusto by Borioni), and privileged family spurring him forward. So far, so slick, until his cousin Sonia (Belvedere) shows up at his apartment and begins to insinuate herself into his life, first casually flashing her endowments at him during breakfast, before interrupting our hapless yuppie mid-flow with his bride-to-be. Sonia’s soft, attentive charms prove to be far more appealing than Cinzia’s nitrous nagging and hedge-trimmed hair, and it is not long before Luigi is fully greased in her oily charms and ready to produce genetically-deficient offspring. He promptly dumps Cinzia and publicly declares new love, much to the disgust of his stern parents. To celebrate, our kissin’ cousins go to a nightclub and bring back a reveller, Francesca, to join them in a kinky threesome. Luigi’s once staunch foundation is disintegrating. The twine is beginning to fall apart.

As is Sonia, her motives gradually unfurling as Luigi sinks further into her seductive thrall. Once Francesca discovers a book of witchcraft belonging to her lusty hostess, the film veers from erotic soft-core thriller to something altogether more demented and unpredictable. Ricocheting between sweet sexiness and bitter, destructive desire, Vittoria Belvedere plays Sonia as a Michelin-starred bunny-boiler. A lot of the fun to be had in this pulpy slice of fiction is in seeing to what extremes she will go to in degrading her cousin’s ivory-white reputation; shoplifting, robbery, and even a spot of swinging with a woman who sports a hairstyle like the pop singer Yazz once had. The only way is no longer up for Luigi- brittle and spiritually jaundiced; he is close to breaking point.

Director Martino underlines the empty sterility of Luigi’s well-heeled lifestyle, allowing his camera to prowl through the dry, neutral tones of the character’s penthouse apartment with its décor at once nondescript and vulgar, a brashly turquoise floor exposed by the grey illumination from an ostentatious skylight. Any other colour that is present threatens the bland comfort of his existence: the ruby lips and flame hair of his boss’s wife, a temptation that would spell career suicide; the bright, flattering costumes worn by Sonia, a candy-coated cyanide pill to be greedily gulped down. Despite the character’s presentation as a spoilt rich kid, Nummi manages to imbue Luigi with enough childish naïveté to make us see him as a victim. Towards the end of the film, Sonia splays Luigi against the domed skylight, which bristles under his weight; it is as if he is being crucified on his own bourgeois livelihood, so transparent and fragile. A bubble of lofty affectation ready to be burst, Sonia strikes at its tainted root.

If her appearance rekindles a repressed attraction between the two cousins from their youth, there are other hidden fractures to be unearthed from this family vault. Craving Desire’s denouement is gloriously over-the-top, dripping with violence and macabre revelation. Sonia, clad in black PVC and high heels as a deathly dominatrix, brutally tortures Luigi and delivers a lengthy piece of exposition divulging grim childhood trauma. The skeletal spectre now hauled out of the cupboard, it can only be dashed against the ground.
A taut, twisted psycho-thriller, Craving Desire hits its mark with a bone-crunching thud.

The Disc

Presented in the original full-frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the transfer is, for the most part, immaculate. Neutral tones are rendered with clarity, whilst the explosions of colour are richly saturated (check out Luigi’s glowing green telephone for truly alarming kitsch value). Two audio mixes in English and Italian; both presented in Dolby Digital mono, which does not quite do justice to Natale Massare’s electro-flecked score, although the dialogue is free from surface noise. And for those purists who prefer subtitles to dubbing, there is no need to fear as the English dub is of top quality and unobtrusive, with dialogue delivered sincerely. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the disc is a little, ahem, bare-boned in terms of extras: a small documentary on Belvedere might have been nice. But maybe that’s just my own desirous craving…

Reviewed by James Kloda

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