The Film (4/5)
In the early 1950’s Italy, young Mimma decides to join a brothel house to earn quick cash for her boyfriend Nino. The house’s Madame, Madame Collette, gives her the house nickname Paprika, for her hot and spicy physique and attitude. Paprika had planned to only work in the brothel for 15 weeks, but once she stepped through the doors and crossed that threshold, her life was to be a whore’s life from that moment forward. From one brothel after another, she works to earn as much money as she can, encountering some of the world’s most eclectic and dangerous clients, pimps, and other brothel whores.
Director Tinto Brass creates perhaps one of the most faithfulness adaptations to English novelist John Cleland’s provocative and controversial “Fanny Hill” of 1748. The English setting is converted into the early parts of 1950’s Italy, where prostitution and brothels were legal up until the passing of Merlin’s Law that sought the closure of organized brothels. This time period is set around the early adolescent life of Brass’s main character Paprika, whose essentially tricked into organized prostitution, and Brass develops the story into a comedy that’s peppered with outrageously obscene moments.
Paprika is a voluptuous woman to begin with, but her naivety is exploited that leads her to a path of being raped, seeking an abortion, witnessing death, and encountering some of the most abusive people in the positions of power. But Brass conducts a firm farcical film, to the point of nearly over exaggerated, that these twisted and disturbing scenes come off as humorous or playfully teasing. That’s the brilliant talent of Tinto Brass. And with the inclusion of elaborate and eloquently bold settings stemming from some of Italy’s exotic locales, “Paprika” becomes a particular interesting film that’s not quite hardcore or softcore pornography. Nudity, and I mean countless nude sequences throughout the film, becomes almost second nature, squashing the taboo of exposed flesh right off the table. A testament of keeping truth toward the eroticism of Cleland’s “corruptive” novel.
The lead is played by Debora Caprioglio who was at her early 20’s at the time. The well-endowed Caprioglio defined the role of Paprika. She didn’t seem uncomfortable at any point during what could have been considered to be some of the most awkward scenes ever shot. It doesn't hurt that Caprioglio has a photogenic beauty that's paired well with the vivid eye of Tinto Brass as he's able to capture every curve of not only his leading lady, but of all the actresses.
Brass has the ability of capturing moments seamlessly by the use of his multi-cam method where three cameras are running simultaneously on different angles of the scene. This method makes for an easier and smoother transition when hitting the editing room, which Brass personally tackles. Yet, the 116 minute feature blazes through so much content that keeping up with every brothel house and life altering event Paprika experiences is nearly impossible. With the help of creativity in the settings and the angles, not forgetting the almost out of reality scenes, "Paprika" imprints in the mind and the eyes. And maybe even into your soul because instead of having the urge to lust after a slew of naked women prancing around the brothels, you're more attentive to the grand surroundings or the placement of the characters emotions that drive story.
Cult Epics courteously releases an 1.67:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p transfer Blu-ray. The presentation from the original master has been touched up to try to clear blemishes, but the framing balanced looks correct with maybe only slight cropping. The colors could have been more vivid, but the entire film is in a haze as if someone was smoking in each scene, resulting in some loss of natural color. However, the flesh tones naturally come through the haziness. At certain points when the an actor's wardrobe coincidentally blends in with the background, aliasing effects creep in to trivially distort the actors' actions. No other distortions were present.
The Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles soundtrack is nearly flawless. The late composer Riz Ortolani's (who also scored Tinto Brass's later film The Voyuer) score is clean and upfront, balanced harmonically amongst the dialogue that’s also prevalent. While balanced, the dialogue tracks do have a hiss distortion and some of the subtitles are omitted during some scenes involving the French abortion doctor and minor exchanges between characters.
Bonus features include a compilation of Tinto Brass trailers: "Paprika," "Monamour," "Cheeky!," "Private," "Black Angel," and "Kick the Cock." There's also a lobby card video picture gallery of Paprika promotional material. Lastly, "Welcome to the Whorehouse" documentary of Tinto Brass discussing his reactions and controversies his film has had on the societal groups.
"Paprika" is not only a piece of entertaining erotica, but a time capsule of an interpretation of Cleland's work and of the evolution of Italian prostitution. While it's clear that the Cult Epics Blu-ray has some technical video and audio issues, I'm inclined to say that this release is the best presentation of "Paprika" to date, especially on a Hi-Def format.