19 June 2008 | Bunuel1976
SPLENDORI E MISERIE DI MADAME ROYALE (Vittorio Caprioli, 1970) **1/2
For those of you who were under the impression (and I include myself among these!) that Italian star Ugo Tognazzi first played a gay character in the extremely popular LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1978), here comes this obscure and ultra-rare (so much so that I came across it as a Divx!) little film to prove the contrary!!
Unlike the later outing (which spawned two lesser sequels), this is a comedy-drama rather than a farce: interestingly, the narrative even has elements of the thriller genre (though these are mostly downplayed throughout in favor of characterization) as the gay community here seems to have been targeted for murder – with the investigation being handled by debonair Maurice Ronet (amusingly, he first meets Tognazzi by posing as a prospective client!). The title character is none other than the name Tognazzi gives himself when doing his flamboyant drag act during private soirees regularly organized for pals of similar bent; incidentally, his identification with this would-be historical figure is so complete that he conducts his conversation at such times exclusively in French! His closest companion is played by Vittorio Caprioli, an amiable character actor excelling at cantankerous but worldly types – and who also happens to be the film’s co-writer/director (none of his work in this department is very well-known, however).
Anyway, Tognazzi is called upon by Ronet for information about his ‘beat’; this doesn’t sit well with his ‘colleagues’ (since it eventually lands a number of them, involved in illegal activities. in the slammer!), but the policeman keeps coming back for more – especially after Tognazzi himself seeks help from Ronet with respect to the abortion/incarceration/escape of his vivacious teenage ward (“Euro-Cult” starlet Jenny Tamburi in her debut performance). The latter is actually the daughter of Tognazzi’s late male partner – who had left the girl when still a baby on his doorstep and vanished forever! To be honest, as often happens, the gay subtext borders on the grotesque (if not quite reaching the level of caricature) – and the film’s mainstay are actually the sequences between anxious Tognazzi and carefree Tamburi, marked by both realism and unexpected tenderness, and the numerous ‘business’ meetings (too often occurring unwisely in plain sight of their ‘victims’!) between Tognazzi and Ronet. The film, in fact, ends with the former being ‘taken for a ride’ in full effeminate regalia – a scene which manages to generate reasonable tension and pathos.
By the way, the credentials for this little-known effort are nothing short of remarkable – the co-scriptwriters are Enrico Medioli and Bernardino Zapponi (frequent collaborators of Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini respectively), the cinematography is by the award-winning Giuseppe Rotunno, Ruggero Mastroianni (brother of star Marcello) did the editing, while the score comes courtesy of Fiorenzo Carpi (ZAZIE DANS LE METRO  and SALON KITTY )!