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Devil in the Flesh

Devil in the Flesh
1985 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 114 min. / Il diavolo in corpo / Street Date August 30, 2005 / 19.95
Starring Maruschka Detmers, Federico Pitzalis, Anita Laurenzi, Alberto Di Stasio, Riccardo De Torrebruna
Cinematography Giuseppe Lanci
Production Designer Andrea Crisanti
Film Editor Mirco Garrone
Original Music Carlo Crivelli
Written by Marco Bellocchio, Ennio De Concini, Enrico Palandri from the novel Le diable au corps by Raymond Radiguet
Produced by Leo Pescarolo
Directed by Marco Bellocchio

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The new DVD label NoShame followed up their initial selection of classic Italian cinema with thrillers from the 70s and 80s. Their latest wave of product features sexy Italian exploitation films featuring alluring continental femme fatales. This 1985 Marco Bellocchio opus adds philosophy and political comment to its tale of a sexually insatiable young woman played by the instant sex symbol Maruschka Detmers. It's hot stuff that goes beyond soft-core content and earned an "X" rating when released by Orion Classics in 1987.


Giulia (Maruschka Detmers) is the fiancée of Giacomo Pulcini (Riccardo De Torrebruna), on trial with other Red Brigades terrorists but hoping for a reprieve based on a plea of contrition. Giulia wants to support him in the last days of his trial, but she's confused. Her psychiatrist Professor Raimondi (Alberto Di Stasio) think she's deranged, and we see her react oddly when witnessing a near-suicide, and the disobedient rebellion of the radicals at the trial. Kept in a cage instead of a docket, one couple under arrest make love right in the courtroom. Giulia soon takes her psychiatrist's son Andrea (Federico Pitzalis), a student, as her lover. Their tempestuous affair alarms parents on both sides of the family, as Andrea is soon addicted to Guilia's charms and her delirious excesses. A wedding is planned for the day Giacomo is released, but he tells the oversexed Giulia that all he wants is to live a normal and quiet life. She has no such intentions.

Marco Bellocchio is an Italian filmmaker committed to social causes, and his China is Near was practically an anthem film for the May 1968 student rebellions. His 2003 picture Good Morning, Night concentrates on the Red Brigades' kidnapping and murder of the Italian politician Aldo Moro. Although a Red Brigade trial figures in the plot of Devil in the Flesh, it is only an elaborate background for a more exploitative sex film.

Maruschka Detmers is certainly eye-catching as the film's frequently nude heroine. Her character's erratic behavior never forms any kind of pattern in concert with the political background, and her compulsive sensuality functions along the familiar lines of soft-core sex films. Enticing and irresistible, she throws her student partner into a dreamy chaos of furtive lovemaking.

Bellocchio directs the beautifully filmed Devil in the Flesh with a sure touch for visual interest, and although the film moves slowly it never becomes tiresome. But Ms. Detmers is the whole show, as the political theme never moves beyond the scandal of the sex scene in the courtroom. If anything, we wonder why Giulia's shell-shocked fiancée is being pardoned simply for recanting publicly, when his fellow radicals are being given fifteen and twenty-year sentences. We also must endure a lot of philosophy read from books, as young Andrea listens to university lectures and then breezes into his oral exams.

In truth, the philosophical discussion is likely to be ignored in favor of the film's other oral content. Devil in the Flesh shares with Nagisa Oshima's Empire of Passion the distinction of being an art picture featuring "X" rated sex scenes. Maruschka Detmers is mainly remembered as the first international 'star' to perform a sex act in a widely distributed film. As meaningful as this may or may not be, the real fan base for Devil in the Flesh was and still is the soft-core/hardcore film audience. The DVD package text claims that it is "... one of the most important Italian films of our time" but the best that can be said for Devil in the Flesh is that it is definitely more accomplished than the average Tinto Brass sexploitation movie.

NoShame's DVD of Devil in the Flesh is a beautifully authored disc transferred from the original uncut negative. Giuseppe Lanci's warm cinematography is pleasing to the eye (and, for the record, certain scenes are no longer darkened).

The disc extras include a lengthy interview with director Bellocchio, who is put in the position of talking about his body of work with a solemnity which taxes one's patience. An original trailer almost as "X - rated" as the film is also present, along with a brief poster gallery. An unusual interview short subject produced for the disc gives us two authentic ex- Red Brigade members, both female, who talk rather pointlessly about sex in the Brigades, especially in prison. Without more background on the notorious political guerillas we haven't a clue as to what the women represent. The vague discussion comes off as irrelevant to both the movie and recent Italian political history - a history so complicated, I'm not sure many Italians could understand it.

The most sensible extra is the disc's thorough liner notes. Bellocchio answers three questions in an interview done at the time of the film's release. Giona A. Nazzaro offers a concise career overview for the director and Allessandro Marenga sketches some background for the Red Brigades. The lead-off essay by Richard Harland Smith gets much more to the point by analyzing Devil in the Flesh as a high-profile sex film. He notes that Bellocchio's psychoanalyst heavily influenced the filmmaker at this time, and reports that the film's notorious sex scene came about as the result of improvisation by the playful actors, at the director's encouragement.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Devil in the Flesh rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Stolen Years, Hidden Lives interviews with former real life Red Brigades Adriana Franda and Mara Nanni, In Bellocchio's Flesh interview with director Marco Bellocchio, Trailer, Poster & Still , Booklet with liner notes, essay on Red Brigades history and Marco Bellocchio bio
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 24, 2005

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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