Monday, 13 August 2012

The Frightened Woman AKA Femina Ridens

Hard businessman Dr. Sayer (Philippe Leroy) has a strange vice, he loves to dominate women and treat them as his slaves. But it goes beyond this and enters a much more sick terrain; Dr. Sayer on the odd occasion that he has sex likes to kill his partner at the very moment of climax. Into Sayer's world comes Maria played by the legendary Dagmar Lassander, a woman whose inquisitive questioning brings her to Sayer's home , where Sayer plans to trap her, dominate her, and finally murder her; but can Maria's beautiful heart win through Sayer's icy exterior?

Upon the movie's opening I was overwhelmed by the beautiful sometimes-bizarre settings, this is a magnificently huge scale movie that I can only compare visually to the likes of The Prisoner, The Avengers, and the early horror offerings of Dario Argento. Whether the shot is of a magnificent fresco wall decor, an ultra modern looking home, or the most unusual art installation featuring an even more interesting doorway; everything about how the movie looks is so magnificent it looks good enough to eat. The movie is a testament to the changing interests of the Italian people, having gone from a lifestyle that looked almost previous century, to this ultra cool and ultra modern style chic, that to a certain level the British population has not caught up with almost 40 years on.

Initially looking like it was going to be some sort of 60's depiction of modern day torture porn style viewing, The Frightened Woman is a movie you could not fairly categorize as one thing or another. It starts in the most frank and brutal way and then somehow transforms into almost a beautiful romance, although you know that at any time the movie is going to turn fundamentally nasty again. I was won over by both the nastiness of the piece as well as the beauty of the romance, it was at times hard to believe that effectively this tale of great beauty was effectively outlawed, of course I was awoken by the movies attempt at a shock climax, I say attempt because back in 1969 this was not the normal thing, 2008 however sees things differently.

There are moments of the movie that cinematically should go down in history, the jazz band on the back of a train give the movie an artistic look, while the use of the popular Amphicar (if you know what I'm talking about then you're really old) gives further spin to the view of change in Italian cinema. The wonderful response to the couple at a seaside castle from the employees provides some last minute humour, that really takes the movie into a third dimension.

If there is one thing that lets The Frightened Woman down its the rather annoying Scooby Doo style ending where the motives for the big surrounding story are exposed, but one slip up in 90 minutes of exceptional and classic film-making is something that can be accepted.

The cast performs incredibly well especially considering what at the time was harsh subject matter and effectively a two hander of a movie, two handed movies are rare now but back then practically unheard of, and to carry out such a wide range of contrasting emotions shows the quality of an actor.

The movies main theme song "Femina Ridens" is an incredibly dated, but difficult to forget piece of 60's pop by De Mutiis, it has a most interesting set of lyrics.

It's hard to believe looking back now that there are elements of this movie that once would have called offence; I find it incredibly hard to understand why it got a release with an 18 certificate, because it's certainly one of the most tame and charming of the movies I have seen from Italian shores, even with its viper like final kick, and frank opening scenes.

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