Monday, 18 October 2021

The Libertine (1968)

The Libertine (the original title is La Matriarca) is a 1968 Italian sex comedy directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile which was picked up by Radley Metzger’s Audobon Films in the United States (and released there in a slightly different cut). It’s a lot more sophisticated and stylish than the average Italian sex comedy of its era (in fact it’s a lot more sophisticated and stylish than the average US or British sex comedy of that period as well). This was obviously why it attracted Metzger’s interest.

Of course it has to be said that Italian sex comedies of this era are largely unknown territory outside of Italy so their poor reputation might well be undeserved. It also has to be said that The Libertine is not quite a sex comedy - it’s more of a sexy romantic comedy with a satirical edge.

Margherita (or Mimi as she is known, played by Catherine Spaak) is a very very young very pretty widow. And a very rich widow. She’s a bit puzzled as to why she doesn’t really feel anything about her husband’s passing.

Then she makes an intriguing discovery. Included in her rich industrialist husband Franco’s estate is a large penthouse office complex which nobody knew anything about. She decides to investigate. It turns out not to be an office complex at all but a luxury apartment fitted out as a private love nest. The revelation that her husbands kept a mistress (or mistresses) doesn’t shock Mimi too much. What does shock her is her discovery of his extensive film library. It comprises films of sadomasochistic sex games involving her husband and various women, including Claudia (an apparently very respectable friend of the family).

Mimi is somewhat appalled, but she’s surprised to discover that she’s also slightly disappointed that Franco never invited her to join him in these sex games. I mean, if your husband’s a pervert the least he could do would be to ask his wife to share his perversions.

Mimi also realises that her sex life with her late husband had been pretty boring. It had obviously been boring for him but now she realises it was boring for her as well. She decides that she needs to do something about this. She needs to explore her sexuality. Franco’s luxurious penthouse love nest will provide the perfect headquarters. She’s bought herself a copy of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. She wants to learn all about sexual perversions. She thinks she may be a pervert. Or rather she hopes that she is. It sounds like fun.

Now what she needs are some men to practice on. Initially the results are not entirely satisfactory. She is however a determined young lady and she’s not giving up. She takes a total stranger back to her penthouse where he slaps her around and rapes her. She enjoys this, but not as much as she’d hoped to (this is not a politically correct movie).

Mimi throws herself into the world of kinky sex and then along comes Dr Carlo de Marche (Jean-Louis Trintignant). He has sex with her but then he wants to marry her. Mimi thinks that men never want to marry the women they want to have sex with so she’s rather reluctant. Carlo is determined and persuasive, and his methods of persuasion include giving her bottom a good spanking. Not as sex play, but just because she’s being a naughty girl. Like I said, this is not a politically correct movie.

It’s unusual in being a movie that deals with sadomasochism and various sexual fetishes in a very positive way. Mimi discovers that she is in fact kinky, and that’s a good thing. It suggests that sadomasochism is empowering for women, even when they play the submissive role. This is a movie that is not just a collection of prejudices about kinky sex - it was obviously written by somebody who’d bothered to learn something about the subject and maybe even give the subject some thought. Even more surprisingly it’s a movie that doesn’t imply that women should be punished for exploring their sexuality, no matter where those explorations might take them. And Mimi discovers that she has a very unusual sexual kink indeed, but that’s OK, whatever your kink happens to be there’s bound to be a member of the opposite sex who will be delighted to share it with you.

Jean-Louis Trintignant shares top billing with Catherine Spaak which in commercial terms made sense. He had plenty of star power at the time. It is however Catherine Spaak’s film. Her performance is the one that matters and she’s an absolute delight. She’s quirky, unpredictable, adorable, sexy and very funny.

The set design is impressive, especially Franco’s secret sex hideaway. I love the chairs in the form of a pair of scales. Miss Spaak gets to wear some fabulous 60s clothing (which she takes off frequently - there’s quite a bit of nudity). This movie is packed with late 1960s style.

The Nucleus Films Blu-Ray includes a lively audio commentary by Kat Eflinger who managed to convince me to go looking for more of this director’s films) plus a featurette on the production design and the US cut of the film.

The Libertine is a playful and very stylish sex comedy that manages to be very amusing without treating sex as a dirty joke. An excellent movie, highly recommended.

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