Directed by Tinto Brass
With: Francesco Casale, Katarina Vasilissa, Cristina Garavaglia, Raffaella Offidani, Franco Branciaroli
The Italian director Tinto Brass, like the American Russ Meyer, is proof that the auteur theory is an open tent. It would be tough to make the case for Brass as a great filmmaker -- he is essentially a silly titillator -- but he puts his unmistakable stamp on whatever he makes, asserting himself as the true author of his films no matter who provided the source material. With "The Voyeur," he takes a novel by a genuinely great artist, Alberto Moravia, and turns it into a Brassian bacchanal of female crotches, prosthetic erections and slo-mo bouncing breasts -- all while managing to slip in Moravian themes of betrayal, ennui and alienation. Certainly, that's something like genius.
What makes Brass' brand of almost-hardcore erotica unique is his powerful visual sense. Every shot is carefully -- often hilariously -- composed to provide precisely what Brass wants to reveal at a given moment. Chic and beautiful people cavort (in strictly choreographed ways) in big, superbly appointed rooms. The colors -- from the clothing to the walls to the lipstick and nails -- are bright and rich. And the camera (or at least the zoom lens) always moves, pressing in like orchestral crescendos on faces and private parts, Brass always reminding us that we're watching a movie (he even resorts to silent-screen-era iris ins and outs). A key to the rich look of his films is his frequent cinematographer, Massimo Di Venanzo, whose camera credits include nothing less than Fellini's "Amarcord" and films by Bertolucci and Antonioni.
Though Brass has utilized established actors in the past (Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren in "Caligula," Frank Finlay and Stefania Sandrelli in "The Key"), in "The Voyeur," made in 1994, he's mainly interested in physical specimens, not skillful emoting. A young French lit professor, Eduardo (Francesco Casale), is in a funk since his wife moved out to live with an aunt. As clueless as the "heroes" of Moravia's novels "Conjugal Love" and "Contempt" (the basis of the great Godard/Bardot film), Eduardo can't figure out why Silvia (puffy-lipped blonde Katarina Vasilissa) has left him, but thinks it has to do with her not wanting to live in his wealthy father's place any longer. Katarina returns periodically to have sex with Eduardo but she seems to be hiding a secret -- a secret she wishes Eduardo would guess.
Meanwhile, Eduardo pays frequent visits to his dad, Alberto's, bedroom, where the old man (Franco Branciaroli) is recovering from a mysterious fall. Between highly inappropriate discussions about sex between father and son, the verbose and horny Alberto receives injections in the butt from a barely dressed nursemaid (Cristina Garavaglia, who resembles the very young Sophia Loren). It's typical of Brass' over-the-top nature that these injections require the man to go full frontal and reveal a big, fake penis for maid and son to marvel over. But that's nothing compared with what the old guy has his maid do with a cigar.
And that mystery woman glimpsed visiting Dad one day sure looked familiar ...
Cult Epics has released several of Tinto Brass' films on DVD, and, for fans at least, "The Voyeur" is a welcome addition to the lineup. This is the 99-minute, uncensored Italian version previously only available as an import disc (the movie has an Italian soundtrack with yellow English subtitles; there's no English-dubbed option).
The 1994 film's original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio has been preserved, but at the expense of a windowboxed presentation; on a widescreen TV, you see the entire rectangular picture but with black bordering on all four sides, meaning a sizable fraction of your screen goes unused, while on older square televisions, you'll get a fairly full picture, with slight black bars at top and bottom only. The transfer is clean and crisp and the colors are warm and rich, if slightly gauzy in some romantic scenes. The Dolby stereo provides a decent, natural sound for both the dialogue and Riz Ortolani's jaunty score.
The one-sided disc is very functional and easily navigable. Pop the DVD in and you're quickly brought to the still-frame main menu, which offers Play Film, Scene Selection (there are 12) and Special Features. The extras include a stills gallery from "The Voyeur" and trailers for that film as well as Brass' other skin flicks on the Cult Epics label: "Private," "Cheeky," "Frivolous Lola," "All Ladies Do It," "Miranda" and "The Key" (a bit of which is also shown in "The Voyeur" when the husband and wife go to see a movie).
The best bonus is a 25-minute interview (a monologue, really) with director Brass, shot in 2007. The talkative 75-year-old, speaking heavily accented English, good-humoredly discusses all those prosthetic erections in his films (apparently a defense against censors) and the one real one his "Voyeur" star sports in a scene the director seems especially proud of. He also jokes that the explicit cigar scene must have inspired Bill and Monica.
Brass says Alberto Moravia had given him his blessing for a film of "L'Uomo che guarda" and told him expressly not to be faithful to it, but to make his own cinematic statement. The novelist died in 1990 and Brass encountered resistance from his estate, resulting in Moravia's name not being mentioned in the film's credits. But the prankster Brass got it in by having one of the movie's characters reading the book, its cover clearly revealing the title and author's name. In his interview, the director also gives a hint of a film to come, "The New Maid," by having its star, Angelita Franco (who sounds like an American) come in -- and sit on his lap. He never quits, this guy.
Too explicit for cable TV and too tame to be considered porn, "The Voyeur" is typical Tinto Brass, which is to say it's typical of nothing else. The "Caligula" director's unapologetically juvenile obsession with women's bodies, especially below the waist, is here applied to a text by an esteemed writer, Alberto Moravia, and somehow it works. The movie looks great, as do its young stars. And unlike some other more recent Brass films, this one, about a young husband trying to win back the affections of his estranged wife, holds up as a fully thought out piece. It's not a good movie by the usual standards, but, as Brass explains, the movies are a voyeuristic art to begin with, and he's giving us a real eyeful.