Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Maladolescenza (Pier Giuseppe Murgia, 1977)

When Europeans make films about summer holidays, they often view the time and place as unknown zones. Away from home, people are sometimes on some kind of unknown time: the first or last happy time, the beginning of maturity, explorations of love, rites of passage. This film is like that. There are only three characters, Laura (Lara Wendel), Fabrizio (Martin Loeb), and Silvia (Eva Ionesco), and the story takes place in the forest near the young people’s summer homes. Laura and Fabrizio explore the forest and discover high in the wooded hills a ruined “magic” town. Laura is eager to see him after a year apart, and she notes he has changed: he’s sullen and withdrawn and increasingly given to teasing and tormenting her. The sexual tension between them is complicated by Laura’s desperate wish to please him and his pleasure in denying her any sort of satisfaction, even conversation or a modest kiss. They find a cave underneath the castle, and lost down there Fabrizio undresses her and they make love. Just that once. And then he’s back to his mean ways of frightening her or tantalizing her. This gets still worse when he discovers Sylvia, in some ways Laura’s opposite, confident, blonde, mean, and fearless. She and Fabrizio torment Laura some more, in increasingly cruel ways, threatening to banish her, frightening her, shooting arrows at her, pretending to throw her from a cliff, making her serve them, and forcing her to watch them have sex. Fabrizio seems to get steadily worse, obsessed with living in the forest, imploring Sylvia to stay with him. As the summer is about to end and she’s set to leave, he takes them into the cave again and tells Sylvia they’re lost—and she panics, weeping and saying she’ll go crazy and screaming. She can’t hear Fabrizio pleading to let their idyll continue. Laura, who feels confused by Sylvia’s vulnerability and by her own diffidence (because she knows the way out), comforts the other girl. And Fabrizio kills her, just as he’s killed helpless birds already. What starts as an idyllic season succumbs to a corrosive pattern of conflating sex and power, so experimental cruelty is inevitable, and then the pastoral turns gothic. Sort of. The movie looks wonderful, with gorgeous photography of woods and meadows and ruins, and the three young actors are very nice to look at. Wendel is soft-looking, anxious, expectant, longing—she’s the best actor among them. Loeb is not a petulant adolescent, but he seems dissatisfied with things any boy his age would celebrate forever. Ionesco is an odd mixture of radiance and plainness, her golden hair all cloudlike and her skin fine, but her face is also rather ordinary looking from certain angles, and there’s something almost unformed and childlike about it, though her ease before the camera makes it difficult to spot (she was the favourite model for her mother, a famous photographer). Wendel appears more attractive because she’s more delicate, more hesitant, and more sympathetic. Finally, it would be nice to see a film about young people discovering sex and love and joy without this sour undercurrent of punishment.

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