23 May 2011 | lor_
The compromises of cinema
Eriprando's A SPIRAL OF MIST is a most curious film -for me it typifies the "keeping up with the Joneses" problems of a declining national cinema in Italy at the end of the '70s. A great cast, okay soap opera material and a talented director fell sway to the world's increasing interest in porn.
That's a shame because Visconti had rounded up a set of French and Italian thesps who would have done uncle Luchino proud. But why subject them to the ignominy of gratuitous full-nude & sex scenes, much in the manner of a trashy American pic (see Laurence Olivier in THE BETSY) of the period? Because the public in an era of "porno chic" expected stronger stuff in even their mainstream fare.
Visconti was coming off a great local hit, the rape/kidnap exploitation smash ORCA, which generated a successful sequel and is today still much enjoyed on the collector's circuit. With MIST he moved into soap opera territory, similar to the work of his uncle's best follower Mauro Bolognini. The story deals with the marital problems of several couples, plus their sexual escapades with their servants, plus an unresolved (and half-hearted) murder mystery, that all spells night time soap.
What took me aback was the clearly compromised injection of sexploitation elements into the narrative. By film's end there are full-frontal nude scenes by nine (3 of them male) of the principal players, not extras or bit roles. The glamorous French star Claude Jade, who brightened up several Truffaut movies, looks positively embarrassed when she is called upon to join hubby Duilio Del Prete in the shower; she comically and daintily puts on a shower cap in this scene. Elsewhere, her acting is top-notch.
Del Prete, who flirted oh-so briefly with American stardom under the tutelage of Peter Bogdanovich with leads in DAISY MILLER and AT LONG LAST LOVE, was experienced in classic sex films opposite such bombastic beauties as Laura Antonelli and Ursula Andress, but it still is disconcerting to see him with his Johnson hanging out here. Later in the film his servant girl gives him a hand job, and we know Visconti is aiming low.
Similarly, a very lovely starlet who never made it in films, Carole Chauvet, is cast as the central character Valeria, married to loathsome Marc Porel, and seems quite natural au naturel. She gives hubby a blow job later in the film which is an extended scene in closeup, merely kept softcore by the careful framing which does not show explicit penetration. Was this artistically necessary, or just to appease the fans' basest instincts? Stefano Satta Flores gives perhaps the best male performance as a police inspector investigating Valeria's death while she was out hunting in the woods with Porel. Film presents her fate, RASHOMON-style, in a series of many brief flashbacks, all punctuated by the yellow rain-slicker she's wearing. Picture leaves the solution to this mystery up in the air, though Porel is Prime Suspect throughout.
Also adding mightily to the prurient content is Martine Brochard, a MILF of a nurse who is constantly injecting the cast in the rump with unspecified drugs (adding to the general Visconti Sr. atmosphere of decadence). More obviously, the beautiful young starlet Eleonora Giorgi pops up in the second half of the film, also for purely pulchritudinous purposes.
On a sleaze level, this adds up to enjoyably trashy entertainment, though I for one would have preferred a more straight-forward and conclusive handling of the mystery/suspense elements of the story. It probably represents a good example of cultural differences: never released in America the film would have been X-rated here all the way, yet for a European audience of the late '70s it was probably taken in stride, not unlike the way Scandi audiences lapped up "family porn" comedies such as the BEDSIDE and IN THE SIGN OF... series starring Ole Søltoft.