Cult Epics // 2005 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // August 15th, 2011
"Jealousy is the strongest aphrodisiac."
Tinto Brass has been directing movies since 1963 but his output in the '70s really cemented his reputation. After Salon Kitty and Caligula, Brass concentrated his filmmaking efforts on making soft-core erotica. The latest (at the time of this review) feature from the maestro of Italian sex films, 2005's Monamour arrives on a very pleasing Blu-ray transfer from Cult Epics.
Marta (Anna Jimskaia) is sexually unsatisfied after only six months of marriage to Dario (Max Parodi, Private). They were once an adventurously amorous couple but their bedroom antics are now routine. While attending a literary festival in Mantua, Italy, Marta meets a French artist named Leon (Riccardo Marino, The Lizzie McGuire Movie) who gets her all fired up. Marta records their secret trysts in her diary but she's soon found out when Dario happens upon her journal. Will Dario step up and become the stud his wife demands or will Marta run off with her French lover?
Monamour doesn't have the most original storyline ever, but the audience for this film genre can do without the distraction of dense exposition and complex plot twists. Tinto Brass is exceptionally skilled at making his brand of sex romp and this film is a fine example. The movie's brisk pace makes the rather predictable story go by effortlessly. Plot points and story beats are observed long enough to serve their purpose and we're quickly onto another locale or scene. Each new scene is another chance to observe our beautiful heroine in another barely-there costume. If Brass knows how to keep the story details short and to the point, he also knows how to keep the sex scenes concise and fresh. Where lesser directors run their actors through a tiresome rotation of positions in an effort to make such scenes pay off, Brass is able to establish a slightly different mood for each scene and he's comfortable ending the scene before it runs out of steam.
The scene where Marta and Leon have a lunchtime rendezvous is a good example of Brass's ability to keep things interesting even when everyone has their clothes on. While Marta anxiously awaits her secret lover, the restaurant setting is filled with interesting activity: two fishermen sing arias as they debate opera composers; a gay couple interact at another table; an older man gives a check to his much younger, female companion; and a nervous Marta orders martini after martini. There is a growing erotic tension along with Marta's impatience and by the time Leon finally arrives there really is no further point to seeing them linger at the table. The ensuing sexual act is quick and shocking but it is entirely satisfying as the conclusion to a sequence that began when Marta entered the restaurant.
Anna Jimskaia has a bouncy, exuberant personality that allows her to dominate the scene whenever she's on camera. She is definitely more than capable of reaching the limited dramatic range that the script requires. It's easy to believe Marta is having a sexual reawakening when you see Jimskaia's fearless performance so full of joyously sexy energy.
The art direction is so detailed and deliberate that Monamour looks like the most lavish erotic film ever made but that's typical of the quality of Brass's films. The movie uses some impressive locations, interior sets have a dreamy elegance, backgrounds are filled with extras, and the lighting is as good as any first-rate mainstream production. Mirrors play a large part in the set decoration, which not only act as a playful visual motif, they allow cinematographer Andrea Doria to capture some very interesting compositions.
The accomplished cinematography is well represented by the excellent HD transfer of this Blu-ray disc. The 1080p, AVC-encoded image is clean and sharp. Surface textures are nicely rendered in close-ups and detail is retained in the gentle shadows. A handful of darker shots exhibit some video grain in the blacks but these few instances are not distracting. The 5.1 surround audio with Italian dialogue is a good, standard sound mix. The 2.0 stereo option is also fine, the main difference is the dialogue gets a slight boost. The English language dub, mixed in stereo, is a typical lazy translation featuring amateurish voice work and is the least of the audio options.
Extras for Monamour are limited to a trailer and a making-of featurette running about 16 minutes. In the featurette, you see Brass at work with the actors and get to hear his very precise instructions when it comes to filming the sex scenes. It looks like the actors and crew are having a lot of fun and, not surprisingly, Jimskaia describes herself as an exhibitionist.
On the second disc of this set is Tinto Brass's 2008 short film Kick the Cock (The New Maid). Brass fills roles on both sides of the camera, playing a dirty old man on screen. His character smokes a cigar while watching a maid wearing a fetish outfit cook and clean in his kitchen. At a running time of 16 minutes, this piece feels too long for this simple premise, but those who are into this scenario might argue it's not long enough. Andrea Doria is the cinematographer again and every shot seems thoughtfully composed. My only minor complaint is the flashback sequence, which is distinguished by overexposing the exterior backgrounds. While the light level still works for the subjects, I just found this visual trick to be a little harsh on the eyes. Otherwise, the 1.78:1 picture, also presented in 1080p/AVC, looks excellent.
The short film is accompanied by some more extras. Some poor location audio recording mars the making-of featurette but it's an interesting look at the crew at work. Actress/burlesque artist Angelita Franco speaks a bit on how she conceived the idea for the short film. "Spanish Dance by Angelita Franco" is footage from a burlesque strip tease performed in a club. "Comic Strip by Franco Saudelli" observes Franco modeling in a bondage scenario for an artist. There is footage of Tinto Brass at the 2008 Venice Film Festival and a teaser for the short film.
Films like this one will draw accusations of being sexist and objectifying women. There's probably some validity to that viewpoint. While the attitude of the film is Marta as a sexual subject rather than the passive plaything of men, remember that the film manifests the fantasy of one man, Tinto Brass. The film indulges in the appreciation of female nudity from all angles (prosthetics are used when it comes to male nudity) and viewers who are offended by that are warned to stay well away.
I'm not an expert on Brass's oeuvre but it's clear to see that his movies stand apart from others in the erotic genre. In a field of typically sleazy productions, his are by far the classiest. Monamour may not have the ambition of his signature works but it displays his mastery of the craft and sums up his loving obsession with the female form.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cult Epics
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Italian)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Footage
* Short Film