Avere Vent’anni [a.k.a., To Be Twenty]
by Barry Meyer
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Two free-wheelin’ young ladies, Lia and Tina (Italian sex starlets Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati), meet and realize they are both “young, beautiful and pissed off” (as they like to tell everyone they meet), so they decide to pair up and enjoy the simplicity and freedom of the hippie lifestyle in 1970’s Italy. They hitchhike their way to Rome to find a popular commune they’d heard about, where they could stay for free and have all the free love they want or so they would think. When they arrive, they discover that the men are all too stoned to get it on, and that the gals are expected to pay for their lodging. Not having the desire to become cleaning women, the girls are forced to use their natural charms to earn their keep. This only angers the other chicks of the commune who want to be — ironically — liberated from their hippie female roles. Life at the commune gets even worse as the police raid the joint looking for drugs, and Tina and Lia are sent packing by the fuzz. Back on the road the lovely pair again seeks fun and free love, only to run into a gang of thugs at a roadside cafe. What follows is one of the most horrific and shocking endings in the history of cinema.
This is the notorious film from the Italian crime/thriller director Fernando di Leo that shocked everyone with its no-holds-barred climactic ending that seemed to come out of nowhere. For the duration of the film the audience is treated to what appears to be a simple comedic sexual romp of a pair of sex kittens who just wanna have some fun. Within all the sexual hijinx, though, di Leo has of social and political commentary peppered throughout—nothing to beat you over the head with, but nonetheless it’s present and up for interpretation. There are the hippie women who rebel by displaying their maternal prowess; there’s the commune host who acts more like a salesman than a hippie guru; but most provocative is the back-story of the two heroines, Lia and Tina. Both girls proclaim to be free wheelin’, free lovin’ hippies, but each sexual exploit is met by some kind of personal issue. Tina, the more adventurous of the pair, wants boys boys boys! But never seems to want them if they actually want her. She’s really into the seduction part. And then there’s Lia, who divulges that she doesn’t even really like sex, despite her many lovers—both male and female—she’s only into the attention. She learned when she was real young that sex gets attention—even if it’s from some salty old neighbor who molested her—she was into the attention.
The girls never do find what they’re looking for, and they don’t get the answers to the unasked questions that seem to puzzle them. What they do find is a world that spins around on its own, never living up to their personal expectations, and uses and abuses them without them ever really realizing it. They naively and selfishly pursue their own whim, keeping the rest of the world at an arms length, avoiding the consequences of their rebelliousness and their sexually free lifestyle. Only until they come across a bunch of macho men who have their own problem with keeping within ethical boundaries do they get their wake up call. When the two worlds collide, the horrifying outcome is undeniably ruthless and unsympathetic, but certainly doesn’t seem so out of place with the underlying unspoken commentary. Avere Vent’anni is a twisted little flick with an ending that shakes the viewer up and demands their attention.
Luminous Film and Video Works has released this gem all wrapped up in a nice package, bundling together the two contrasting versions of this film onto two discs—the original Italian version with all the sexual romps intact, as well as the brutal climax in full; and the American version that plays up the guise of sex comedy to full proportions (playing down the violent climax). There are some dandy extras added, as well, including detailed bios and pix of the actresses, and an interview with the director.
Barry Meyer is a writer living in slo-mo out Jersey way.
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