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Voyeur (aka L'uomo che guarda) (1995), The

Cult Epics // Unrated // November 10, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 28, 2016 | E-mail the Author
Based on a novel by Alberto Moravia, The Voyeur follows Eduardo, aka "Dodo", a local college professor in Italy who is obsessed with being an observer. His lessons revolve around it, and his love life is built around it. Until recently, his gaze was focused on his beautiful wife, Silvia (Katarina Vasillisa, aka Katarzyna Kozaczyk), but they have recently separated, leaving him restless and yearning. He lives with his father, Alberto (Franco Branciaroli), a former professor himself, and Alberto's nurse Fausta (Cristina Garavaglia). Between his father's lusting for Fausta, Fausta's advances toward Dodo himself, and an amorous student (Raffaella Offidani), Dodo remains surrounded by people to observe, but he remains obsessed with his wife -- and discovering who her new lover is.

Early in the film, Dodo delivers a lecture to his classroom about the nature of observation. He argues that a viewer is complicit or culpable in sexualizing their subject, but that watching is freedom, and one which taps into desires that we otherwise repress. As a love story, The Voyeur is passably interesting, but as an attempt to illustrate Dodo's theory of voyeurism, it's fairly fascinating, with Brass deftly packing the film with visual symbolism, tricks of perspective, and layered scenes which take the viewer through various degrees and types of observation.

In terms of the viewer sexualizing their subject, Brass certainly dives in feet first. In this, the uncensored director's cut of the movie, he indulges what appears to be a personal obsession with viewering a woman's pubic mound through her legs from behind. On one hand, this is Brass' bread and butter, but in The Voyeur, these moments present a series of open-ended questions. Do the women in question know that another character is looking at their body? Is another character looking at their body, or is the framing of the shot only for the viewer's benefit (can we assume just because there is a reverse angle that they're focused where we're focused)? Is Brass forcing us to partake in his own fantasy? In many of these scenes, a bystander -- a sweaty fellow diner, another movie theater patron, even Dodo himself -- are seen watching sexual activity. Should the viewer feel as if they are being ideologically aligned with these "peeping toms" because Brass is showing us the same things they're seeing, possibly from their very perspective? Brass has more fun asking these questions than answering them, but they provide something to chew on in addition to enjoying the movie as erotica.

The perspective of the camera and the characters captured by it is only part of Brass's investigative, possibly invasive technique. Many of the women wear clothing through which nipples and pubic hair are obviously visible. Mirrors are a staple throughout the movie, capturing another angle from which to watch, or watch someone watching, or be watched. Dodo's room is lined with photos of people who stared directly into the lens. Not an unusual thing, but one which takes on an additional significance in context. Brass directs us into Dodo's fantasies and memories, some seen through the cracks of doorways. The shot lingers after Dodo leaves his student's apartment to watch the student and her lover for a few seconds after he goes. A bizarre scene on a beach, full of couples having sex and pleasuring one another, almost reaches an Airplane! like level of absurdity, so strong that I briefly entertained the idea that the aggressively sexual nature of Dodo's world was all in his head -- a nice idea, but probably not something that Brass intended.

Aside from Dodo and Silvia's attempt at reconciliation, most of the story concerns Dodo's concerns at being compared to his father, as a professor, as a lover, and as a man. It seems likely that this angle was more pronounced in the book, whereas in the movie it takes a backseat here to broad comedy about Alberto's lust and the use of his dick. It's only a shame that their rivalry, which from Dodo's perspective is centered around Silvia, does not actually make as much room for her in the story as it ought to. There is no denying that Vasillisa is hypnotic, a seemingly towering, voluptuous beauty who is every bit as captivating as the woman who catches Dodo's attention ought to be. She also seems to be a decent actress, despite being her only major film role. The Voyeur may not tap into any particularly unusual desires, but the metaphoric and stylistic bravado of the movie, and Vasillisa's beauty do make it fun, to watch.

The Blu-ray
The Voyeur gets a fairly stylish, modern-looking cover that takes an image of Katarina Vasillisa from the film, digitally erases her tears, and frames it and other photos of her inside a stylish blue-and-white design. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Cult Epics' 1.78:1 1080p AVC transfer of The Voyeur is advertised as new on the box copy on the back of the disc. Although there are moments in the film that achieve a reasonable clarity for high-definition, if this is a new scan, it doesn't seem to have come off of the original negative. Damage is frequent but generally within reason, and colors get the closest to approximating modern clarity in the right lighting, especially Dodo's memory of his first "meeting" with Silvia, on opposing balconies. However, most of the film looks decidedly soft, even beyond hazy mood lighting, and there is a flatness to everything stemming from poor contrast -- no richness to the flat, pancake shadows that cover the backgrounds and edges of the screen. There is also the possibility that the image has been improperly cropped.

Two soundtracks are provided: English and Italian in Dolby Digital 2.0. I listened to the Italian track with the optional English subtitles. There are no significant distortion or distracting anomalies in this track, although of course even the Italian is probably not source sound but dubbed in later, and there is that expected disembodied quality to the voices. Music is fine but not particularly detailed.

The Extras
A vintage interview with Tinto Brass (23:49) is the same one from Cult Epics' DVD of the film. There are also trailers for Monamour, Kick the Cock, Cheeky!, Private, and Black Angel (which are advertised as HD but some of which seem to be sourced from low-quality YouTube or internet videos), and a photo gallery.

I've seen a few Tinto Brass pictures before now, and none of them have done much to hold my attention, because there's generally a sense that the filmmaking and story are secondary to their function as erotica. The Voyeur is the first one where it felt like there was more going on beneath the surface, or at least something on top worth paying attention to. Recommended.

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