Judge David Johnson thinks that you can't go wrong if you've got both "devil" and "flesh" in the title. Or if your film stars a ludicrously hot Italian woman.
The luckiest guy at the prom.
Devil in the Flesh, the notorious Italian film legendary for its explicit sexual images, is treated to a brand-new release from NoShame Films, complete with a certain four extra minutes that have made the film the epitome of "controversial."
Facts of the Case
The film is set in Italy, on the heels of a revolutionary period in the country's history. But while politics might act as the backdrop, the, er, thrust of the film is a relationship between a gorgeous woman named Giulia (Maruschka Detmers) and a virile student named Andrea (Federico Pitzalis).
One day Andrea is gazing out of his classroom window, when he spots Giulia on her rooftop. The attraction is immediate, and is soon reciprocated when the two run into each other at a courtroom where Giulia's fiancé is currently awaiting sentence for crimes against the government. But he is no match for the flames of passion ready to ignite between Giulia and her new young lover. The affair commences, much nudity from Detmers is unleashed, and as the two cultivate an affair that is both sweaty and frowned upon by loved ones, Giulia will eventually have to decide between her political bad boy fiancé and her adolescent boy toy humpmachine.
Despite the plot of the film—and the tawdry synopsis above—Devil in the Flesh is not a straight-out piece of exploitation. It's a well-made movie with serious thoughts on its mind, far from the steamy Cinemax romp it appears to be.
Is there a lot of sex in the film? Yes, but it's—for lack of a better term—artsy-fartsy sex. Don't expect to be, er, blown away by titillation. Director Marco Bellocchio is not after the voyeuristic audience; his fable is a story of people using each other to satisfy the carnal itch they've got going on. But it's not Melrose Place–malicious using. Andrea is enveloped in the kind of schoolboy fantasy that many a young hormone-engulfed male has envisioned: knocking boots with the super-hot neighbor lady despite the lack of beer-buying ability and the unsightly unibrow. And Giulia exorcises the pent-up anxiety from her emotionally charged relationship with her incarcerated, revolutionary boyfriend.
Speaking of the politics, this is an element of the film much hyped by both the bonus materials and the disc case. While the historical context is interesting, the meat and potatoes of Devil in the Flesh is the relationship between Giulia and Andrea, and the political aspect never gained traction for me in the narrative.
Both Detmers and Pitzalis give strong performances, with the former certainly standing out. She's a truly beautiful actress and wields much of the emotional weight as a woman whose feelings are jostled like pasta in a strainer. Her acting is brave, and I mean that literally.
Which brings me to the single piece of this movie most responsible for its branding as "infamous." In one extended sequence, Giulia performs fellatio on Andrea, and the act is explicitly shown; Detmers is clearly doing the deed. The scene itself is not exploitative, as it would be in an adult film, and Bellocchio does not utilize it as a vehicle to get one's juices flowing. Still, it is gratuitous and raises some questions on the role of graphic sex in a serious film. This judge found it wholly unnecessary and actually counterproductive to the narrative. Its inclusion was so shocking that, for me, it took away from the rest of the film. Is this kind of sexual display viable art or merely a distracting stunt? I'll let the, er, members of the Jury Room debate that point.
NoShame Films has delivered a pristine 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for this disc. The film was remastered from the original vault negative, and the quality of the job is truly stunning. The picture is sharp and crisp and the colors are vivid. The original Italian mono soundtrack is as shallow as you would expect, but adequate. Overall, a sweet piece of technical wizardry by the NoShame folks.
Likewise the special features. Though the disc isn't swimming in bonus material, what's here is quality. Included are some interviews with real-life revolutionaries from the time period in which Devil in the Flesh is set, who offer candid descriptions of the sociopolitical and sexual climate. And Marco Bellocchio himself sits down for a revealing, lengthy interview. Lastly, meaty liner notes give further background on the film and its setting. Interesting stuff.
A well-made, well-acted film that deals in politics and major sex. At its heart, Devil in the Flesh is a simple tale of an affair between two flawed and wanting people. The flick may be too intimate for its own good, though.
Not guilty, signora!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: NoShame Films
• Interviews with Real-Life Red Brigaders
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