"The face speaks best for itself by remaining silent," notes the poet Ovid, as the camera contemplates the glowing visage of Marina Pierro. ARS ARMANI/ ART OF LOVE features Ms. Pierro in the key role of a Roman woman who undergoes a startling transformation by the film's ending, much like her role in Walerian Borowczyk's previous feature

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981) .

The Female Gaze?

The gaze of the female protagonist, leaving aside the abortive EMMANUELLE 5 (1987), becomes the subject of his final feature films. Pierro's eyes actually glow as she is transformed into a murderous beast by Dr. Jekyll's chemical bath. Her character shifts from loyal partner to willing partner in the hideous crime spree which concludes the film. The film, often described as misogynist, at least gives a woman a foothold in repressed Victorian society, even though it is as a monster. Everyone is capable of devolving into a monster, both in the context of the original story and this film adaptation.

Borowczyk's LULU (1980), based on two Frank Wedekind plays, is not an expressionist film, as is the 1929 G.W. Pabst adaptation, PANDORA'S BOX.  But it centers the female protagonist as the focus/victim of the Male Gaze, also within a late 19th century bourgeois context, as represented by the artist who idealizes her, the men who exploit her and the audiences who watch her erotic dancing. She's the often nude object of men's desire within the Victorian context, who will eventually fall into prostitution, poverty and becomes subject to the gaze of Jack the Ripper, who will perform the grisly surgery necessary to his own agenda, which is glimpsed at the grim climax. Sordid sex and violence roil just below the glittering surfaces of European bourgeois society, a cesspool awaits those who can't maintain the wealth and power to live on that surface. Jack the Ripper and Mr. Hyde are not perversions in Borowczyk's period nightmares, they are inevitable. This pathetic woman may be a subject for a painting and she is photographed as such by the director.

ART OF LOVE opens in Rome 8 AD, where the poet Ovid holds court in a forum attended by young Romans eager to hear his lectures on "love" the code word for sex. Ovid's philosophical ramblings present the erotic choices for women as limited to pleasuring men within the context of ancient Roman private life and the public interest. But there's a sense of irony in the way his elegant rants are blocked out as camp performance art and the casting of former neo-realist protagonist Massimo Girotti (Visconti's 1943 OSSESSIONIE), who later became a arthouse regular in such films as Pasolini's TEOREMA and Bertolucci's LAST TANGO IN PARIS, while continuing a career in commercial cinema (THE GIANTS OF THESSALY, BARON BLOOD).

"Offer your back, if your back is pleasing," the poet advises a group of females
who attend one of his public lectures on the art of love. But wait, how dare he? He is, after all, a male, and an entitled male, directing his students how to play their role within the Male Gaze. The entitlement ends at the end of the scene when the lecture is raided and Ovid arrested. And Claudia is left staring into the camera, out into the future, perhaps?

Walerian Borowczyk was often accused of being a talented artist who fell to earth where he wallowed in the dirty pools of pornography. This is a rather boring and limited way to assess his filmography. He began as an animator and courted controversy as he moved into feature films which such titles as IMMORAL TALES (1974) and THE BEAST (1975). Trained as a painter, his compositional genius is apparent in each and every frame of his films. Paloma Picasso, bathing in blood in the notorious episode of IMMORAL TALES, is a breathtakingly beautiful tableau.

ART OF LOVE opens with Claudia, whose husband is away participating in endless Roman wars, settling into glass bath tank which is contained within a larger transparent tank filled with exotic fish. Water is a trans-formative element, as it is in THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE, which is perhaps Borowcyzk's feature film masterpiece. That film unfolded in a poisonous miasma which choked off the possibility of normal love, healthy sexuality and social justice. The Victorian era in all its hypocritical glory. These past worlds which are so carefully detailed are entrancing, mysterious, beautiful. But there's something evanescent and impenetrable about them. And something sinister.

When the soldiers finally come home to the Roman Empire they punish women who are found to be problematic, or in case of Claudia, unfaithful. In this third film of the director's "immoral trilogy" it becomes obvious that there is no comfortable place for women outside of the proscribed roles they must play with in these repressive societies, at least the way they are. There is a place, though, in the extreme horror scenarios of DR. JEKYLL... and his final film, LOVE RITES (1988), where the female protagonists become ferocious predators, capable of murderous violence against family, society and men who might fall into their clutches. In LOVE RITES, the male protagonist, weak and frightened, becomes the subject of a savage hunt in the Paris subway where the Female Gaze of the huntress, Marina Pierro again, holds sway. The failure of LOVE RITES also marked the end of Marina Pierro's feature film career. She appeared in several TV series and short films during the 1990s until 2008. Her unique presence may have been too difficult to fit into contemporary horror films. She is probably best remembered as the manipulative friend of the title character in Jean Rollin's 1982 zombie film, THE LIVING DEAD GIRL.

The director presents Ancient Rome not as a documentary reality but as an accumulation of art objects, classical architecture and detailed costumes. Early morning light dappled on ancient fabrics is a Borowczyk specialty A surreal, disorienting world not unlike the Rome of FELLINI SATYRICON, a mind reeling extravaganza of erotic games in mesmerizing settings.

Finally, and suddenly, Claudia finds herself transported into the late 20th Century, where she wakes up from the dream of History and finds herself a modern archaeologist who is unknowingly involved in a fatal love triangle. She can't escape being the object of desire, objectified by the Male Gaze, which is just as omnipresent 20 centuries later. Human beings resist change, but can change if forced by their context. History is a dream, a fantasy matrix which can be dealt with, investigated, examined as a collection of impressions, texts and extant objects. English language dubbing historians will note Anthony La Penna voicing Girotti. Veteran voicers Carolynn De Fonseca and Ted Rusoff also participate.http://img838.imageshack.us/img838/6900/arsamandi1983.jpg

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Edited 16 times by bobmonel Oct 31 16 1:57 PM.