A sophisticated Italian beauty (Carroll Baker) is unable to pick between the three men she is admittedly in love with. As a result Gianni (Gastone Moschin), Gaetano (Renato Salvatori), and Mike (Michel Le Royer) are invited to a lush villa in the Adriatic coastal city of Dubrovnik to participate in a small contest. There day after day Margherita will toy with the men's sexual fantasies until they finally realize that no one is expected to win.
Written and directed by award-winning Italian director Marco Ferreri who in 1973 won the prestigious FIPRESCI Award at the Cannes Film Festival with his Le Grande Bouffe, an updated version of De Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, L'Harem (1967) is a dark satirical comedy about societal stereotypes.
The premise of the film is indeed rather straightforward: a beautiful woman with plenty of sex appeal decides to impose her will upon a group of men ready to play her games. Only along the way the woman becomes more and more fascinated with her commanding skills. Strangely, so are the men, even though it takes awhile before they admit it.
Intended and played as a satire L'Harem never truly leaves the boundaries of the genre it is meant to represent. From the moment the audience is introduced to the seductive Margherita it becomes obvious that alongside the humor in this film there will be plenty to investigate as well. And surely as the story progresses the three men-Gianni, Gaetano, and Mike-who must win Margherita's heart become attached to notable "qualities" which women apparently have a special affinity for: financial success, physical appearance, and spontaneity. Each of these "qualities" is individually represented in one of the candidates and that is what Margherita must choose from. To spice things even more Marco Ferreri has also added plenty of passionate sex scenes in L'Harem that are not as reveling as one might have initially expected.
I must admit that I am not quite so sure how to digest this film. Part of me wants to look at it as a benevolent Italian satire where a few "controversial" characters are toyed with in an entertaining fashion. Yet, the cynic in me is having trouble with the fact that L'Harem touches upon a few very (supposedly) outdated stereotypes about the silly games the two sexes play and (surprise, surprise) not much has changed since the early 70s. From the moment we sense that "attractive" equates "financially well-off" for Margherita to the moment we recognize that the men's "feelings" for her are nothing more than carnal aspirations Marco Fererri's film seizes to be funny.
Completed at a time when Italian and French directors were indeed producing exceptional films L'Harem is not as impressive as it could have been. Certainly its premise is quite intriguing and the cast spectacular yet I felt that overall the tone of the film remained rather tame. There just isn't enough oomph here that could have produced the outrageous results the Italian maestro achieved with his Le Grande Bouffe. Still, the stereotypes which the two sexes are left to struggle with are quite entertaining!
How Does the DVD Look?
The UK-based Infinity Arthouse appear to have acquired the rights for quite a few classic Italian titles and some of their initial releases left mixed feelings amongst film aficionados. Fortunately L'Harem is one of the better releases in their catalog. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen TV's. The quality of the print however is not as fresh as I was hoping it will be. There is some minor dirt noticeable here and there, colors are good but not solid, and edge enhancement could be spotted occasionally. Furthermore, contrast is simply not that solid either. To sum it all up this is definitely one of the better efforts I have seen by Infinity Arthouse yet it is far off what this film should look like. Considering the fact that this is the only English-friendly release on the market (the Italian version is not) I am satisfied with its existence. For now! PAL-encoded, Region 2.
How Does the DVD Sound?
The original Italian DD track appears in mostly stable condition: there are no annoying pop-ups or intrusive hissing(s). Dialog is easy to understand and music comes off the speakers rather well. The white optional English subtitles appear in a normal size font and there are no grammatical mistakes in the actual translation.
There are no extras to be found on this DVD release.
Considering how difficult it was to track this film I suppose many of us must be grateful that an English-friendly version has finally surfaced. This being said I really do not think that Infinity Arthouse have any idea how to produce and market their DVDs. A quick glance at the slip-case for L'Harem reveals no technical specifications. Is this intentional? One may think that the company's recently released non-anamorphic prints of other notable Italian films may have something to do with it. Fortunately, this specific DVD release is manageable.