Giovanni Boccaccio’s collection of 100, 14th-century medieval tales told by ten different narrators was adapted by four of the top Italian directors during the 1960s: Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, and Vittorio De Sica. Boccaccio ‘70 featured Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, Romy Schneider, and Marisa Solinas in the four-part anthology about the complexities of love and sex in the modern age, and the comedic moral hypocrisies that ensue. Marriage, infidelity, male fantasy/inadequacies, and female empowerment are explored throughout. While the film examines Italy’s postwar socio-economic landscape and the double standards between men and women, Boccaccio ‘70 is still a fun sex romp with killer curves.
Turn Me On, Dammit!
Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s bleached and hazy coming-of-age tale centers on a sexually charged 15-year-old girl in a small Norwegian town. The hormonal Alma is stigmatized for the same behaviors that the boys around her are encouraged to act upon. The Scandinavian import’s dry, bittersweet farce finds the teen trying to ease her sexual frustrations with botched phone sex sessions and an awkward encounter with a classmate — all while her mother tries to corral her budding sexuality.
Penélope Cruz’s debut in Bigas Luna’s 1992 erotic allegory pairs the actress with Javier Bardem. He plays Raúl — a wannabe underwear model and bullfighter who is tasked with seducing Cruz’s pregnant Silvia in order to loosen her grip on the father of her child. Raúl’s been hired by the man’s mother, who doesn’t approve of the relationship, but also takes issue with Raúl and Siliva’s growing attraction since she too becomes enamored with the virile Romeo. It’s a satirical, sensual, and surreal look at sexuality and gender in Spanish culture that ends in a farcical battle with dueling ham hocks.
Lina Wertmüller is one of several female directors to be nominated for an Academy Award — in her case, for 1975’s Seven Beauties. Her iconoclastic tendencies, however, found several of her films the target of feminist criticisms — like the sultry shipwrecked story, Swept Away. A wealthy capitalist (Mariangela Melato) winds up on a deserted island engaged in a sadomasochistic relationship with a Communist deckhand (Italy’s beloved Giancarlo Giannini). The once liberated industrialist’s wife is cruelly dominated by the chauvinist sailor — and this is where Wertmüller’s penchant for socio-political conversation emerges. So where’s the comedy? New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby explained it best, perhaps:
“The enormous appeal of the comedy has to do with the way, briefly, each character, is able to overcome those commitments. It also has to do with the performances of Mr. Giannini and Miss Melato, who tear into their roles with a single-minded intensity that manages to be both hugely comic and believable, even in the most outrageous of situations. They are the best things to happen to Italian comedy since Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren squared off in the nineteen-sixties.”
As a public service, we want to warn you to avoid Guy Ritchie’s remake of the movie, starring Madonna. This should require no further explanation.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
Pedro Almodóvar’s dark parody of heterosexual love and obsession stars Antonio Banderas as a recently released psychiatric patient who kidnaps a softcore porn actress he once had a fling with and demands her eternal affection. Banderas’ character holds Marina (Victoria Abril) hostage until the Stockholm Syndrome transforms her into a willing partner. It’s an absurd psychodrama — with a title raunchier than its former X-rating implied — that subverts sexual politics in a way that only Almodóvar can brilliantly pull off.
We totally understand why seeing the controversial and scatalogically inclined Pier Paolo Pasolini on this list would make you nervous, but trust us when we say that the director’s version of Giovanni Boccaccio’s previously mentioned The Decameron is a fascinating rustic folly. Pasolini gives the Italian classic a bold twist, featuring lusty nuns and priests, young lovers, and the director as a fresco painter inspired by the hilarious erotic entanglements and atmospheric medieval adventures. Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights completes Pasolini’s earthy Trilogy of Life.
Before Gérard Depardieu was behaving badly on airplanes, he was starring in Bertrand Blier’s Going Places as one half of a pair of (discretely homoerotic) thugs who take an anarchic trip across France. Women are disposable, violence is necessary, and stealing is a middle finger to the bourgeois society around them. Look for Miou-Miou, Isabelle Huppert, and Jeanne Moreau who become caught up in the risqué adventures that mock conventions and oscillate between freewheeling and darkly comedic.
Così fan tutte
“A face can be painted over with make-up, conceal its age of impurities; a mouth can spew cruel lies. A butt is definitely more honest than that,” Italian filmmaker Tinto Brass once remarked. The posterior-obsessed director is best known in America for his collaboration with Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, Caligula, but his sex comedies have an international fan base. They’re light, fluffy, and gorgeously shot with a female cast that always appears to be overjoyed at the mere prospect of being naked. Brass’ style is voyeuristic, fetishistic, and often includes unsimulated sex. Così fan tutte (All Ladies Do It) — loosely based on Mozart’s opera — is no different, following a hedonistic wife exploring the city with her husband’s blessing. The sometimes terrible dubbing adds an additional layer of unintentional comedy to the raunchy sexcapades.
Picnic on the Grass
Jean Renoir’s oddly charming comedy finds one man conflicted with the dispassionate flux of modern society and his natural draw to an earthy country girl. The film was shot on the estate of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean’s father. Catherine Rouvel’s naked dip in the water is a poetic, playful moment that speaks to the heart of the film.
Mario Monicelli’s Academy Award-nominated film Casanova ‘70 (yes, the Italians were obsessed with 1970… the future!), tells the tale of a Major — played by the always charismatic Marcello Mastroianni — who can’t seem to become aroused unless there’s an element of danger present. His attempt to cure himself doesn’t play out as planned and the bed-hopping hijinks continue. It’s a charming, colorful, comedic gem — Italian style.