Monday, 22 February 2010

Frivolous Lola (1998)

One of the many sad things about our modern age is the disappearance of erotica. Sure we have porn. Lots and lots it. On demand. But erotica is something different. One of the last living exponents of the art of cinematic erotica is Tinto Brass, and his 1998 movie Frivolous Lola (Monella) is a good demonstration of the reasons why erotica is more fun.

Someone once said that if you watch porn for ten minutes you want to have sex right now. If you watch porn for an hour, you never want to have sex again. One can only take so much of mechanical images of anonymous body parts. The makers of the sexploitation movies of the 60s and the softcore sex films of the early 70s understood that there was more to sex than this.

Of course this was partly because they had no choice. Not being able to get away with the explicitness of hardcore porn they had to include other things in their movies to maintain the audience’s interest. Things like actual characters. Dialogue that was slightly more complex than, “Oh God yes, yes, yes.” Even proper stories. So when you got to a sex scene it meant something because you’d actually got to know the characters. And they had to rely on the art of the tease, just as the old-time strip-tease artistes had done. And the truth is that while anonymous body parts pumping away gets boring very quickly, the tease never gets boring.

Which brings us back to Frivolous Lola. Set in rural Italy in the 50s it tells the story of a young woman who is to be married shortly. Lola (Anna Ammirati) has just discovered her sexuality. And she likes it. A lot. She’s very anxious to try out her new discovery with her fiance Masetto, but he’s an old-fashioned kind of guy. He thinks they should wait until they get married. Well actually he thinks she should wait until they get married. In the meantime he’ll continue to amuse himself with whores. This is not very satisfactory to Lola.

Lola gets her own amusement by flirting shamelessly with every man she encounters. This includes a rather amusing dance routine to a jukebox in a cafe, with Lola taunting Masetto, and three soldiers as well. She also has a little escapade in a taxi-cab that almost lands her in big trouble.

Lola is not the only sex-obsessed person in this town. There’s also André (Patrick Mower), her mother’s boyfriend. Who might be Lola’s father, but her mother isn’t telling. André and another middle-aged pal of his amuse themselves by taking nude photographs of women. There seems to be no shortage of women willing to pose for the photos, and they have quite a collection dating back some years. They like to reminisce over these photos, and especially to reminisce over the more impressive bottoms. This is a Tinto Brass movie, so the female derrière naturally plays a very significant role.

André used to be a sailor on an ocean liner, and looks back fondly on his various ship-board sexual escapades with female passengers. He also likes to relive these escapades with various willing female accomplices, whilst wearing his old sailor’s uniform. While Lola amuses herself by watching. Lola is quite the little voyeur.

The plot is extremely simple, revolving entirely around the question of whether Lola will be able to control herself until her wedding day, or whether she will manage to persuade Masetto (or if not Masetto then some other obliging male) to give her the satisfaction she craves right now. Much of the movie has the feel of a series of fantasy sequences, or at least sequences done in a semi-fantasy style. It’s a technique that works surprisingly well.

Mostly though it’s an ode to the joys of life, love and sex. Especially sex. There are some scenes in which Lola is fully clothed, but they are few and far between. Even when she isn’t naked her clothes just seem to have a way of revealing considerably more than they conceal. The nudity is very contrived, but it’s contrived in a fun way, and while we’re certainly expected to share Signor Brass’s admiration for Anna Ammirati’s very considerable physical charms it’s done in such a light-hearted way that it somehow manages not to seem exploitative.

Even more pleasing is the movie’s tone, which is entirely free from any suggestion or moral judgments. There’s not a trace of mean-spiritedness in this film. Lola is an outrageous flirt, but she’s also a thoroughly likeable high-spirited young woman. André is a lecherous old reprobate, but he’s a warm generous kind-hearted fellow. They recognise each other as kindred spirits. Both believe life is there to be enjoyed, a sentiment that is clearly shared by Signor Brass.

The great revelation of the move is Patrick Mower. He’s an absolute delight. It’s a tricky role, since there’s the danger that the character could end up seeming merely sleazy, or pathetic, or be overly sentimentalised. Mower gives a perfectly judged performance, and appears to be reveling in the opportunity to play a likeable comic role. Having to play quite a few scenes with a completely naked Anna Ammirati was probably not too much of an ordeal, and we all have to make sacrifices for our art.

Frivolous Lola is sexy good-natured fun. What more can I say?

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