Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
Original Title: La pelle
France/Italy, 1981. Opera Film Produzione, Gaumont. Screenplay by Robert Katz, Liliana Cavani, Catherine Breillat, based on the novel by Curzio Malaparte. Cinematography by Armando Nannuzzi. Produced by Alain Poire, Renzo Rossellini. Music by Lalo Schifrin. Production Design by Dante Ferretti. Costume Design by Ugo Pericoli, Piero Tosi. Film Editing by Ruggero Mastroianni. Cannes Film Festival 1981.
Liliana Cavani makes another disturbing exploration of Italy’s experience in World War II after The Night Porter, this time focusing on Naples in 1944 and based on the memoirs of Curzio Malaparte. The tide has turned and the country has joined the Allies, bringing brash American General Burt Lancaster to the ancient kingdom that is now impoverished. He is preparing his battalion for their triumphant entry into Rome, hoping to take over guardianship of a number of prisoners of war currently being held by Camorra gangsters. Naples itself is a degraded and demoralized place by now, most women have turned to prostitution to survive and the American soldiers have no problems taking advantage of that situation, with idealistic Ken Marshall falling in love with a woman known as “The Virgin” that he tries to romance. At the centre of these storms is Malaparte himself, played by Marcello Mastroianni, who acts as liaison for the occupying brass and who is our tour guide through increasingly bizarre, grotesque situations including a musical orgy and a dinner involving some kind of disgusting sea creature. Cavani pulls no punches in describing a country that has completely lost itself in the devastation of the war, Mastroianni is also witness to some really disturbing imagery that questions the romantic notion we’ve had of a triumphant American army sweeping in and saving a grateful people; here there is only exploitation and the army’s obsession with their own heroic image, and it lasts right up until the very upsetting ending. Not all aspects of this film are successful, it rides a line between realism and nightmare fantasy that it can’t always decide on (imagine Rossellini combined with Satyricon), but it’s also daring and fascinating, with plenty that you feel you’ve never seen before.