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Savant Review:

The Libertine

The Libertine
First Run Features
1969 / Color / 1:85 flat letterboxed / 90 min. / La Matriarca
Starring Catherine Spaak, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Luigi Proietti, Luigi Pistilli, Renzo Montagnani, Fabienne Dali, Nora Ricci, Edda Ferronao, Vittorio Caprioli, Gabriele Tinti, Venantino Venantini, Frank Wolff, Paolo Stoppa
Cinematography Alfio Contini
Special settings Flavio Mogherini
Film Editor Sergio Montanari
Original Music Armando Trovajoli
Written by Nicolo Ferrari and Ottavio Jemma
Produced by Silvio Clementelli
Directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

At the height of de-censorship for movies both in America and in Europe came The Libertine, basically a soft-core sex comedy from the brief window in time before the X rating became associated with hardcore sex movies. With a plotline paying lip service to 'meaningful content', Pasquale Festa Campanile's sex romp boasted a fistful of well-known European names who seemed perfectly comfortable playing in such risqué fare.


After her husband's funeral, Mimi (Catherine Spaak) receives a key to an apartment that proves to be a secret pad he'd kept for illicit lovemaking. Investigating, she finds the place decked out as a sex palace, complete with movie projectors that show earlier orgies. Incensed that her husband sought his happiness elsewhere, Mimi embarks on a one-woman crusade of free sex and licentious seduction, with her hubby's business partner, doctors, strangers, even one of his female ex-lovers. But along the way she meets Dr. De Marchi (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who patiently shows her that sexual adventure is where you find it, and that a good marriage can have it too.

Historically, The Libertine has its place, and it's quite interesting to see familiar faces from European genre movies (Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Gabriele Tinti) along with big names as Trintignant, Paolo Stoppa and Philippe Leroy in such an exploitative movie. A couple of years later, the pendulum would swing against acting in commercial exploitation like this.

The Libertine is calculated to be as sexy as possible without jeopardizing a profitable US release on the 'art cinema' market, the only theaters open to racy continental fare. Shot in English, the movie has plenty of restrained nudity but no graphic sex. The beneath-trashy script has the sleek Catherine Spaak (If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium; Hotel) vacantly seducing every man in sight; when her routine needs a break, we have interludes like a two-minute sequence of her topless maid being soaked with a garden hose - in slow motion. None of the comedy is remotely witty or insightful, and the product sold is a mindless 90 minutes of pseudo-sensuality and rather boring nudity. On the other hand, it isn't mean-spirited or misogynystic, either.

This is a good example of the 'zipless f***' movie described by Pauline Kael - the women strip down and the men keep their pants on (the reverse of what we have now). Trintignant indulges Spaak's attempts to shock him - she undresses in their car and causes a sensation at a gas stop. He trashes the sex pad, breaking mirrors, but turns out to be a cooperative hubby - playing hobby horse for her in an altogether inane happy ending. Sure, it's rather harmless, but neither is it in any way good.

The show is reasonably attractive, and the handsome Flavio Mogherini sets include a shower and a round room that look as though they may have been recycled from Danger: Diabolik from the year before. Now, that picture knew how to be sexy.

First Run Features' DVD is an interesting package that makes a case for The Libertine being sophisticated adult fare, that reads well but is supported only tenuously by the picture itself. Liner notes author Nathaniel Thompson (whose Mondo Digital site is the most intelligent and worthwhile of sites devoted to fringe pictures like this) does an excellent job of explaining how serious adult filmmaker & importer Radley Metzger ran his Audubon Films. The feature is accompanied by examples of Metzger's ad campaign, and a score of trailers for other Audubon releases, which range from mildly racy (like this one) to pretty raunchy. The key to understanding the subgenre is the short-lived respectability these films garnered, and Metzger's classy trailer for The Libertine is a compelling blend of peek-a-boo come-on, and high-falutin' critical quotes.

The transfer is adequate but nothing exceptional. One commendable aspect is the effort taken to reconstruct the full-length film; the quality drops a few notches every once in awhile, where reconstituted foreign material excised from the American release pops back in.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Libertine rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Fair
Sound: Good
Supplements: Text essay, trailers, artwork
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 30, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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