by Jef Burnham
Coming to High-Definition DVD and Blu-ray on July 26, 2011 from Cult Epics.
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Monamour, the latest erotic feature from Italian director Tinto Brass (Caligula (1979)), is the story of Marta, a Venetian woman on vacation in Mantua with her husband— a successful manager of writing talent who has come to Mantua to attend a conference. Dissatisfied with her marriage, Marta finds herself the willing target of a French artist’s affections and an intensely physical affair ensues. The driving question is, will the affair reignite the passion in her marriage or will she leave her husband for her newfound lover?
Admittedly, this story has been told in one fashion or another a thousand times over, and often very successfully. Where Brass fails in his attempt is in the fact that he has made a film which has nothing to do with love and everything to do with sex. As such, it’s incredibly hard to invest in the characters and their dilemmas, especially Marta. After all, the reason for her extramarital tryst is not because she loves the Frenchman or that she doesn’t love her husband any more. In fact, she tells us in the film’s narration that it is quite the opposite. She still loves her husband very much. He simply can’t bring her to orgasm. The result is extremely shallow characterization for what should be our most complicated character.
So, we’ve a movie with shallow characterization that is all about sex. This too is not uncommon (see almost any American comedy). What is uncommon in mainstream cinema is the vast amounts of gratuitous sex and nudity present in Brass’s picture. Star Anna Jimskaia’s vagina is almost, in fact, the protagonist of the film, having more screen time than the majority of the film’s characters— it’s at least the driving force behind the action. In this, Brass shows little modesty as a filmmaker, but to what end? Such graphic depictions of the cast’s genitalia is hardly risque, engaging, or interesting in the least. Such imagery gets old fast. And it is utilized in such abundance that, despite its supposedly erotic nature, it ultimately has little to no effect on the viewer by film’s end. There may not be a single scene in which characters are not exposed, touching themselves sexually, touching each other, or in shown in some other compromising position throughout the entire film. Even when Marta is talking with her friend about her problems she is, in one scene, urinating, and, in another, having her ass passionately massaged by another woman.
So now we have shallow characterization, a plot that revolves around sex, and copious amounts of graphic nudity and sex. Erotica? I don’t know. It just sounds an awful lot like pornography to me. And what’s the difference, you might ask. Tinto Brass himself answers this for us in a bit role in the film, saying that the only difference is semantics and language. To this end, the difference in language is truly a virtual non-difference, especially when a pornographic film might just as easily have characters and storylines as thinly fleshed out as that of Monamour. As for the difference in the intrinsic meaning of the two, with specific regard to the content of Monamour at least, I can honestly find none. The only real difference, it seems, is in whether or not the viewer is culturally expected to cover-up their viewing habits from those around them. With Monamour, and especially the next film I’ll talk about here, Brass makes it abundantly clear, despite his best efforts, that the distinction between erotica and pornography is arbitrary at best.
Disc two of this two-disc Special Edition of Monamour also includes Tinto Brass’s 16-minute, 2008 short, Kick the Cock. Kick the Cock, or The New Maid, is what Brass refers to as a “meaningless movie,” and I find that I couldn’t agree more with that statement, even though I disagree with the effectiveness of Brass’s intended message behind said meaninglessness. “Kick the Cock” is apparently a Ducth phrase meaning “peek in the kitchen” or something shocking and extreme. While we indeed take a peek into a kitchen, there is nothing shocking or extreme here, only more of Brass’s stale pornographic imagery. The film finds Tinto Brass sitting in his kitchen, touching himself as his maid does the dishes and bakes while wearing an ass-less uniform. From there, a second scene shows his maid, now naked save for an apron, pleasuring herself with vegetables while Brass looks in through a window, masturbating a fake penis. Finally, the maid gives him a cake, and that’s it. Nothing more happens. Brass claims that his intention with Kick the Cock was to show the meaninglessness of sex to refute the Catholic Church’s stance that intercourse should only be engaged in for reproduction. Whether or not I agree with the message itself is irrelevant in terms of this review. What’s important is that none of this comes across in the film. Further proving the irrelevance of a distinction between erotica and pornography, the very same theme could be attributed to your run-of-the-mill porn.
The HD transfer of both films are characterized by incredible picture clarity, making Monamour, at least, a truly must-see film for anyone who enjoys erotic cinema. The special features in this set include making-of featurettes for both Monamour and Kick the Cock, trailers for both films, a comic strip by Franco Saudelli, the Venice Film Festival Premiere of Kick the Cock with Tinto Brass (in which he asserts the aforementioned purpose of the film), and a Spanish dance by Kick the Cock star Angelita Franco.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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