Plot: This collection of films by legendary Italian filmmaker Tinto Brass features four of the director’s most recent erotic films, accompanied by a feature-length interview with the director. Cheeky! is about the adventures of a young woman visiting London. Black Angel is about a woman having an affair with a Wermacht lieutenant at the height of WWII. Private is an anthology of vignettes following various young, horny couples. Monamour is about an affair between a neglected wife and a French photographer vacationing in Mantua.
The Films (3/5)
While Tinto Brass has worked in a variety of genres throughout his long career, he’s best known for his softcore erotica; among other things, Brass’ erotic films are recognizable by their above-average production values, unusually sensuous lighting and cinematography, and an appreciation for women’s asses that rivals Russ Meyer’s love for breasts. Brass’ best known film is Caligula, though he disowned the film after producer Bob Guccione added hardcore scenes against his wishes. Brass hasn’t directed since 2008, after suffering a cerebral hemmorhage; the films collected here aren’t as strong as classic Brass films like Salon Kitty and The Key, but there’s still a lot to enjoy about them.
The first, Cheeky! (aka Transgedire/Transgression), is the weakest of the bunch. The movie opens promisingly, with protagonist Carla (Con Yuliya Mayarchuk) taking a stroll through a Hyde Park populated by scantily clad women and couples cheerfully screwing against trees. It seems to be setting up a hypersexual fantasy version of London, and indeed, wherever Carla goes on her search to find an apartment for herself and her boyfriend, sex with men, women and groups is offered to her with the barest of pretenses.
But while Mayarchuck is gorgeous, as are all of of the women in the film (so I don’t repeat myself over and over, take it as a given that Brass knows how to populate his movies with beautiful women), the sex scenes in cheeky quickly start to feel perfunctory. The women are beautifully shot and lit, but the performers don’t have much chemistry, and the movie soon amounts to a repetitive series of scenes of softcore play and women pretending to go down on realistic but clearly prosthetic members (as Brass doesn’t shoot hardcore, most of the penises in these films are fake, which is understandable but a bit distracting). The plot, focusing on Carla’s boyfriend (Jarno Berardi), is forgettable, which wouldn’t be a problem if the rest of the movie were more compelling. The only memorable part of the movie is also the least sexy, with Brass making a surprisingly self-deprecating cameo as a lecherous editor who feels up Carla.
The next film, Black Angel (aka Senso ‘45), is much more interesting. The film is adapted from the novella Senso, about a love affair between an Italian countess and an Austrian officer during the Italian-Austrian war of unification, which was previously made into a film by Luchino Visconti. Brass’ film is actually more faithful to the plot of the book than Visconti’s, though he moved the story to World War II, with Livia Mazzioni (Anna Galiena), the wife of a ministry official (Antonio Salines), having an affair with Helmut (Gabriel Garko), a German officer. While Visconti’s take on the story is lush and romantic, Brass’ film is a dark story of sexual obsession, and a surprisingly morally complex story; Helmut is depicted as a selfish, manipulative coward, but as it’s the Third Reich that he intends to desert, we’re left without anyone to root for (this is often a criticism, but here it makes for compelling drama).
Between the story, the lavish production design, strong performances and Ennio Morricone’s gorgeous score, there’d be a lot to enjoy here without the softcore scenes. Luckily, those are also among the best in Brass’ filmography, and while the movie isn’t as dark as his previous WWII-set Salon Kitty, the setting gives them a darkly erotic charge, particularly an extended cocaine-fuelled orgy scene. It’s surprisingly serious stuff, though not so serious that Brass can’t also have characters exclaim lines like “I want to go crazy up your ass!”
Brass moved on to much lighter fare with his next film, Private (aka Fallo!/Do It!). It’s a collection with six vignettes with titles like “Jolly Bangs” and “Call Me a Pig I Like It,” each centering on a couple (or couples) who spice up their relationship by fooling around with other partners. There’s only the barest plot here, but each is a lot of fun to watch - Brass’ cheerfully smutty sense of humor is on full display, and the copious amounts of sex are made sexier by his precise use of color in the production design and lighting, which feel like a pleasant throwback to ‘70s European softcore. The best, “Two Hearts and a Hut,” is an amusing story about a kinky German couple who pay their scantily clad maid to service them, which she tells her boyfriend about in detail. Not only is it sexy, it’s genuinely funny and pleasantly weird.
The most story-heavy chapter, “Evil to Him Who Thinks Evil,” is about a vacationing couple who are invited to a swingers’ party, where the woman learns to overcome her one inhibition. Spoiler alert: It’s anal sex. This is one of several instances in these films where a woman is surprised by a guy putting it in her bum, only to enjoy it within a few seconds. Male readers, please don’t try this at home.
The last film, Monamour, is about a woman named Marta (Anna Jimskaia) who has an affair with a French photographer (Riccardo Marino) while vacationing with her neglectful husband (Max Parodi) in Mantua. The plot is nothing new for Brass, but it feels fresh here, thanks to the gorgeous location photography and the way Brass blurs the lines between Marta’s real experiences and her fantasies. The film features two of the best Brass’ best sequences, one a bit of rough sex in the woods in the midst of a rainstorm, the other a threeway where the photographer poses Marta to recreat Courbet’s painting Origine del mondo, which Brass cites as an important influence on his work in the extras. While the movie lags in places, it’s both sexy and visually striking enough to be worth a look. Sadly, Brass has only directed one more feature and a short since Monamour, due to his poor health; however, the movies here are ample evidence that growing old doesn’t necessarily mean a man will lose his, um, inspiration.
Each film is presented in a widescreen-enhanced transfer that preserves the films’ original aspect ratios (1.78:1 for the first three, 1.85:1 for Monamour). The transfers are clean and do fine job of preserving Brass’ vibrant, colorful aesthetic. Monamour isn’t quite as strong as the others - I wasn’t able to find technical specs confirming this, but it looks like it was either shot on early digital video or upscaled from a DVD, and edge enhancement and digital artifacting are sometimes a distraction. Each film features a Dolby Digital 2.0. Stereo mix in Italian, with subtitles, and all except Black Angel include a English 2.0 option. Black Angel and Monamour also feature 5.1 mixes in Italian, though the surrounds only really kick in with the soundtracks (Ennio Morricone’s gorgeous score in the former, enjoyably cheesy Europop in the latter). Black Angel also features Morricone’s isolated score.
The main attraction here is a 95-minute documentary Tinto Brass: Maestro of Erotic Cinema, which consists of an extended interview with Brass conducted in 2001 where he discusses his entire filmography in detail, interspersed with brief clips from the films. For fans of the director, this is a must-see, as he discusses the philosophy behind his approach to filmmaking, the turbulent social context that produced some of his earlier, more controversial films, his take on the famously turbulent production of Caligula, and his lifelong appreciation for beautiful female asses.
On the individual discs, Cheeky! features an eight-minute interview with Brass, a high-def trailer, and a still gallery. Black Angel includes an 25-minute making of featuring interviews with Brass and his cast, as well as set footage. There’s also an eight-minute featurette that basically plays like an extended commercial, a trailer and a still gallery. Private includes an 18-minute making-of with interviews and set footage, a trailer and a still gallery. Monamour includes a 16-minute making-of and a theatrical trailer.
The Blu-ray set also includes a glossy, illustrated 39-page booklet featuring a summary of Brass’ filmography, excerpts from the interview with Brass, and information about the cast/crew and plot of each of his films.
Fans who have purchased the previous Blu-ray releases of the movies included here should note that the extras are the same; however, for hardcore Brass fans, the documentary is worth double-dipping for. For anyone who doesn’t already have these films, however, Cult Epics has assembled an entertaining, eclectic sampling of the later work of one of softcore cinema’s most stylish and intelligent auteurs.