With a title like The Eroticist one might reasonably be expecting this Italian comedy to spoof The Exorcist, but that blockbuster American film wasn't released until the very end of 1973, almost two years after this. While there are some coincidental similarities, The Eroticist is instead a frenetic political-religious-sex farce about a presidential candidate with a compulsion to grab women's asses (and not let go).
Such a film so obviously made primarily for domestic consumption presents a problem for foreign reviewers. The picture is so Italiano-centric in its appeal that much of the humor is lost on non-Italian viewers: the corruption- and scandal-plagued Italian Parliament, its relationship with the Catholic church and the Mafia, regional dialects and word-play. Part of the film is set in an Italian convent populated by German nuns and a monk and some of the humor seems to involve the cultural differences between those two countries, as well as the German's broken Italian.
The result is that one watches The Eroticist with a general understanding of where the jokes are supposed to be but only the broader social satire aspects and digressions into broad, universal slapstick really travel. In other words, if you're not Italian, you probably won't find The Eroticist very funny. On the other hand, this reviewer is delighted Severin Films picked it up for release on DVD. If you like comedy in general and are interested in discovering what other countries and cultures find funny, movies like this are interesting on another level. Of course, the fact that the film is crammed with gorgeous women in various states of undress doesn't hurt.
Democratic Christian Senator Gianni [or Giacinto] Puppis (Lando Buzzanca), an unmarried man many assume is gay, is on the verge of being elected Italy's next president when a scandal emerges: greeting the middle-aged vaguely Indian female leader of "Uria," a newsreel camera catches Puppis grabbing the dignitary's behind. Threatened with blackmail, Puppis seeks the aid of childhood friend Father Lucion (Renzo Palmer), a Dominican monk.
Lucion learns of Puppis's strange compulsion to grab women's asses, of which Puppis himself often is not conscious of until after the dastardly deed is done. Lucion sends Puppis off on a "spiritual retreat" to the aforementioned German convent headed by Father Scirer (Francis Blanche), who strongly resembles future U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Coop. Naturally, the convent is populated by gorgeous women, including Sisters Hildegarde (Italian sex cinema icon Laura Antonelli) and Brunhilde (Agostina Belli). The tantalizing Arturo Dominici and Anita Strindberg turn up in other roles.
Lionel Stander, the busy American character actor blacklisted during the 1950s in Hollywood but who found steady employment in Italy in the '60s and '70s, appears as Cardinal Maravigli, a king-maker type in scenes that, like much of the film, require a certain familiarity with the Catholic Church's role in Italian politics. Other scenes play up on Italy's constantly-changing government and a subplot involves how Puppis's condition is misinterpreted by the military, who become obsessed with what they balloon into some kind of presidential coup.
Still, many of the jokes are obvious. The film opens in front of a shop window where all the televisions for sale are broadcasting the election results, though no one's watching. The camera tracks over to another TV shop where passersby huddle together excitedly watching those televisions - sets broadcasting the latest soccer match.
A word about the title and its distribution abroad: The long original Italian title is: Nonostante le apparenze...e purche la nazione non lo sappia...All'onorevole piacciono le donne ("Despite Appearances...and Provided the Nation Doesn't Know About it...The Senator Likes Women"). The Senator Likes Women (and slight variations on that title) were used when the film was first released in the U.S. and U.K.; presumably after the success of The Exorcist that misleading alternate title was used. (A company called Horizon Films distributed it in 1975, according to the IMDb.)
Video & Audio
The Eroticist is presented in a strong 16:9 enhanced transfer that at 1.78:1 approximates the original 1.85:1 Italian release. The colors are inconsistent, but overall it's quite sharp and eye-pleasing. The Italian 2.0 Dolby Digital mono is reasonably strong and the dual-layered disc is region-free. At 109 minutes this is apparently the longest cut of the film available, "restored from elements recently discovered in a secret underground vault near The Vatican!" boasts the cover text.
The only supplement is a good one: A History of Censorship, a 43-minute featurette, 16:9 enhanced, featuring interviews with star Lando Buzzanca, cinematographer Sergio D'Offizi and make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi. Despite its length, this is a good documentary about the making of the film and the climate of the industry at the time. Curiously, there's virtually zero discussion about censorship.
The Eroticist's laughs are in large measure contingent on one's familiarity with Italian and '70s Italian culture but that doesn't mean the film isn't worth watching if you're not. If you're drawn mainly in the racy sex comedy angle, or if you're intrigued by the film precisely because it's interesting to watch another country's idea of film comedy, then The Eroticist is worth a look. Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.