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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Devil in the Flesh
Devil in the Flesh
NoShame Films // Unrated // August 30, 2005
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Svet Atanasov | posted August 19, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Film:
When Andrea (Federico Pitzalis) sees Giulia (Maruschka Detmers) through the window of his high-school class room he is instantly captivated by her beauty. He quickly follows her up to the local courtroom where Giulia's husband, an active member of the terrorist Red Brigades, is standing a trial. At first Giulia shows no interest in Andrea but gradually she warms up to his advances. During a regular court visit Andrea and Giulia strike a conversation and he follows her into her apartment. What ensues is a passionate affair which turns rather complicated especially after Andrea finds out that his father, a promising psychiatrist, has a history with Giulia.

One of the most talked-about and controversial Italian films from the early 80s Il Diavolo in Corpo (1986) has been adopted by director Marco Bellocchio (Salto nel vuoto a.k.a Leap Into the Void; Buongiorno Notte a.k.a Good Morning Night) following Raymond Radiguet's 1923 novel Le diable au corps. It appears however that Bellocchio has taken the freedom of interpreting the novel in a rather unique way by placing both the story and its protagonists in modern-day Italy (the inclusion of the Red Brigades as an aspect of the film has a special meaning which I will attempt to explain below).

Devil in the Flesh is perhaps best known for his explicit depiction of sex which caused quite a commotion between producers, critics, and last but not least censors. For those unaware of the history of Bellocchio's film, long before Vincent Gallo's now notorious The Brown Bunny and its graphic depiction of felatio Devil in the Flesh was actually one of the first mainstream films to break the taboo barrier. The film, however, has a much more meaningful message exploring the depths of sexual obsession and the price we pay to realize our dreams.

Without a doubt Devil in the Flesh is also the sort of film that clearly showcases the difference in perception, creative freedom, and social expectations between Europe and North America. Being the first X rated film to be distributed in America by a mainstream studio (Orion) after the notorious Emmanuelle (1974) Devil in the Flesh was quickly limited to an audience that had certain expectations from a film that clearly does not belong in the above mentioned category. As a result the reception which Devil in the Flesh received in North America was substantially different than the manner in which the film was introduced in Europe. In fact, in the extensive interview provided with this DVD release Marco Bellocchio specifically addresses the fact that American distributors and critics simply "didn't get it (the film)". I tend to agree with such a statement considering the fact that this film is so much more than the sum of its parts as the explicit erotica and unfortunate censorship categorization gave it a regrettable fame that neither the film not its actors deserved.

To understand the approach which Marco Bellocchio followed in Devil in the Flesh one should look back at the political and cultural climate in Italy at the time. The 80's were a time when the country was exposed to a bitter political and economic crisis and film directors naturally responded to it. In addition, the sexual revolution which Europe was undergoing had an enormous effect on the film industry in Italy. Naturally, Devil in the Flesh combines elements that very much epitomized Italy in the 80s- complicated political climate and a desire to unbridle sexuality as a form of protest.

Explicit sexuality is also what made Devil in the Flesh the subject of passionate discussions between both critics and audiences around the world. Some saw the sexual scenes as being out of context and claimed that they unnecessary offered extra spice to an already provocative story where a school-boy falls in love with an older woman. I remember that the felatio scene caused quite a shock between those lucky enough to see the film uncensored and subsequently Devil in the Flesh reached a rather sad cult status between "serious film aficionados". My opinion has not really changed all that much during the years. I believe that Dutch-born actress Maruschka Detmers was phenomenal portraying a person very much consumed by her desire to survive the sad events surrouding her life.

The second group of people that went and saw the film, me included, regarded it is a mirror reflection of Italy from the 80s. A film, and country, where everything and everyone was described by extreme emotions somewhat logically received extreme reactions as well-from extreme political formations, partially represented in this film, to extreme depiction of sexuality, even to an auto industry seeking to develop extremely fast automobiles.

Devil in the Flesh is actually the second adaptation of Raymond Radiguet's notorious novel. The original French version was directed by Claude Autant-Lara in 1946 and depicts a slightly different love affair between an underage student and the fiancée of a soldier fighting at the Front. Marco Bellocchio's version however has plenty to offer, a powerful film that goes the extra mile in bringing a realistic recreation of a woman unable to control her sexual yearnings for a much younger man this is a fascinating film to behold. The acting, the emotions, and camera work are unlike many you will see in Italian cinema from the 80s. A classic film that finally has been presented in its uncut version in North America Devil in the Flesh should not be missed. How Does the DVD Look? Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Devil in the Flesh looks deceivingly good. It appears that the Italian distribs have provided for the most part a marvelous looking print with generally rich colors, good contrast, and only a few print specs that could be seen. The problem is that once again No Shame Films have used a PAL master for their release and as a result there is some minor blurring evident on this DVD. It is worth pointing out however that Devil in the Flesh is in much better condition than the Railroad Man was which suffered heavily from the so-called "ghosting". So, for those of you with high-end progressive equipment this DVD could cause some substantial problems. Other than that the print is more than acceptable.

How Does the DVD Sound? Presented in its original Italian mono soundtrack with optional English subtitles Devil in the Flesh sounds very, very good. I am particularly impressed with the quality of sound offered by No Shame Films as I own an old French VHS of this film and there are some very annoying crack-ups that spoil the viewing experience substantially. It is commendable to have the film presented with such a good audio quality.

Extras: I would like to begin with the fact that there is a very nicely done informative eight-page booklet that No Shame Films have provided for this release. On the cover of the booklet one could see the original art used by Orion Pictures for the North American distribution of Devil in the Flesh. Next there are linear notes by film critic Richard Harland Smith that highlight some important moments from the history of the film. Next, there is a "Brief Chronicle of the Armed Struggle in Italy in the Sixties and Seventies" which focuses on the turbulent political history of Italy at the time. I highly recommend that you look at those facts as they very much unveil part of the Italian political spectrum at the time which influenced the Italian film industry immensely. Next, there is a short but very well put autobiographical portrait of Marco Bellocchio written by Giona A. Nazzaro. Last but not least, there is an excerpt from an interview with Marco Bellocchio taken from the original US Press book.

The actual extras on the disc include the following:

Stolen Years, Hidden Lives: an interview with former real life Red Brigadiers Adriana Faranda and Mara Nanni-

In Bellocchio's Flesh: Interview with director Marco Bellocchio-

Original theatrical trailer-

Poster and Still Gallery-

Final Thoughts: I like almost everything about No Shame Films and their films sans the fact that they are still to begin offering progressive transfers of their catalog films that do not suffer from inherited conversion problems. The great care with which No Shame designs their cover works and the always nicely-done collectable booklets are absolutely superb. Their discs always offer insightful extras such as the interview with the former ex-Red Brigadiers in Devil in the Flesh. If it was not for the conversion issue described above I would have easily placed Devil in the Flesh in the DVDTALK Collectors' series. This is a superb film that has perfectly captured the uneasy and extreme political and cultural climate in Italy from the 80s. RECOMMENDED.

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