11 May 2011 | Bunuel1976
A WOMAN OF THE NIGHT (Nello Rossati, 1979) **1/2
Having watched the same director's mild sci-fi TOP LINE (1988) in the past and not too long ago acquired his prison flick/jungle adventure hybrid FUGA (1985; after catching its trailer on the "Stracult" TV programme) as well as the DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN (1987) sequel, I thought I might as well check out this erotic drama that is frequently shown on late-night Italian TV. Incidentally, it proved a rare digression from the various retrospectives I am currently going through – albeit, treading the same exploitation path undertaken by the Jess Franco efforts, it is not really that much of a stretch! As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised by the film, since I frankly expected little from it: the plot is a mix of Julien Duvivier's influential LA FETE A' HENRIETTE (1952; in the intermittent development of a fictional literary character, though here we plumb the depths of pornography!) and Luis Bunuel's celebrated BELLE DE JOUR (1967; in a woman's leading a double life split between sedateness and perversion); curiously enough, Rossati's first film had been 1971's WIFE BY NIGHT (whose Italian title was actually a direct reference to the afore-mentioned Bunuel movie!).
Ironically, the print shown omitted the name of the actress playing the heroine – the striking-looking Lorraine De Selle!; anyway, we begin with a divorced writer who, being bound to pay alimony to his ex-wife and their child, finds he has to forego his ambition of penning a serious novel and 'sling hash' by churning out what his enthusiastic publisher calls "books that can be read with just one hand"! For inspiration, he turns to a neighbor across the street (De Selle again) who actually does go out on mysterious errands each and every night – so that the hero, genuinely wondering what she does, can 'fill in the blanks' by himself and transfer these actions onto the sexually-liberated protagonist of his latest work!
Of course, the film externalizes his thoughts (these visions often preceded with expository narration to really give the feeling of a novel!) and, this being the late 1970s, precious little is left to the imagination; in fact, the woman's varied clientele encompasses a masochist, a voyeur, a soldier in a porno-theater(!), a flasher, a threesome (involving a transsexual, played by Ajita Wilson, and a dwarf!) and a rapist fisherman. In the meantime, the unwitting employer of her day job becomes enamored of the girl and even proposes to her; while eventually giving in to his requests to dine out, the woman keeps her distance knowing she is unable to resist her nightly wanderings (this psychological insight is vehemently objected to by the publisher whose desk, by the way, is adorned with a phallus for a paperweight!) – at one point, she cannot even contain herself at work, aroused by the passionate groping of a couple of colleagues in the office next door!
At long last, hero and heroine get to meet; they go together to her flat and, predictably, end up in bed – here, however, her true nature is revealed as De Selle produces a knife, castrates her lover (off-screen) and smears her body with his blood (thus anticipating Walerian Borowczyk's 1988 swan-song LOVE RITES by nearly a decade)!; thankfully for the male lead, it is all a dream but the contents have actually provided the author with the extreme act he had been racking his brain about for some time! The lapses of taste can therefore be excused in view of the picture's fantasy frame-work...but, in compensation, it is sufficiently stylish, decidedly interesting and not unentertaining along the way, to say nothing of being held (reasonably firmly) together by the presence – in both senses of the word – of De Selle.