Bestialità (1976), directed, co-written, co-produced and
edited by Virgilio Mattei.
Music by Lallo Gori
This is one of those films for which it is easy to entertain fantasies about how they were conceived. I, for one, am sure that Eurociné, prior to making Orloff and the Invisible Man approached Pierre Chevalier with the job of creating a film around the idea of a woman being raped by an invisible creature. In the case of the Italian film Bestialità, guess what the concept was this time: all you need do is figure out what the Italian title translates into and bear in mind that a dog figures prominently in the story…One is tempted to concoct the following scenario, in which writer George Eastman enters the office of producer-director Virgilio Mattei and the following exchange takes place:
'Hi, you wanted to see me?'
'Oh, hello, Luigi [Montefiori]. Do take a seat. We've got a job for you. We've been able to raise a budget for a film to be called Bestialità: it's got to have two scenes in which a woman has sex with a dog: one at the beginning, the other towards the end. Now you just write a viable story around this.'
'Huh? But have you actually found the actresses? And the dog!'
'Ah, not to worry, those scenes will be simulated, I don't want any nasty stuff on set. We've
found two actresses who are willing, but it was more difficult with the animal casting agencies - none of them would let us use their dogs for this. Finally, I
found an animal trainer who's got lots of dogs. He suggested using this Doberman he has. It had to be a Doberman or a German shepherd, of course; it
wouldn't work with a Mexican hairless or a corgi. Oh, by the way, you've got to write a three-day role for Salerno. '
'Enrico Maria Salerno? He's appearing in this?'
'Yeah, his schedule's got a gap of a few days this year, so he'll do it. You must also remember to keep the script requirements within a low budget. You know, the premise and title will sell themselves but only to a minority audience. Anyway, what do you think?'
'Er…well, it's…interesting. But…won't anyone find it all a bit upsetting?'
'Oh, yes. I forgot. You must add some moralising at the end'
'Well, it's obvious, isn't it? The premise is pretty rough as is, so we'll have to make up for
that with some homiletics at the end. A bit like what Cecil B. De Mille used to do, you know.'
'OK, I understand. Just give me a couple of weeks.'
A conversation like this may or may not have actually occurred during the pre-production of Bestialità but it would certainly make sense of the ensuing film. And yes, it certainly is aimed at a guaranteed but minority audience, if not of real bestialists, then of oddballs looking for something…different, I guess. In Spain at any rate, it was taken up by Arturo Marcos, attracting a mere 65,000 patrons or so, and it's significant that it appears to have been shown subtitled rather than dubbed - either Marcos could tell it was not worth the extra expenditure or perhaps dubbing was actually attempted but the voice actors baulked away in disgust. (Significantly, another extreme Italian softcore, Cavallone's Blue Movie was likewise shown subtitled in Spain)
Well, and what was the story Eastman built around the concept? Before the titles appear, we get the weirdest primal scene on film: a man catches his wife (Franca Stoppi) getting intimate with the family Doberman (the "actor" is credited as "Satan") as their daughter of about twelve surreptitiously looks on through a window. The husband slaps the woman, ties up the dog and, for whatever reason, sets the house on fire. The action, still on the same island setting, then skips to a few years later. Paul (Philippe March) and Yvette (Juliette Mayniel), an unhappy and childless married couple, move in and take up residence close to where the initial events took place. Since their boredom is not alleviated by their encounters with socialites at nighttime parties, they look elsewhere and become fascinated by the young and mysterious Jeannine (Leonora Fani), who appears at regular intervals in the company of a Doberman: the animal, it turns out, was saved by a morose fisherman (Enrico Maria Salerno) and Jeannine herself is none other than the girl at the beginning, her psychological make-up having been affected by the traumatic scene she had witnessed as a child. The couple befriend her and put her up in their villa, initially as a surrogate daughter, then as a lover for both partners and the saviour, temporarily, of the marriage. Meanwhile, the dog lurks outside and little do Paul and Yvette know about its precise relationship with Jeanine. Finally, it all ends badly and gorily, not made better by a cruel final twist, which Yvette takes as a punishment for both her and her husband.
The Mediterranean island location and suitably leisurely pacing ensure a measure of atmosphere but the film is not helped by cutting and filming that are either, in the main, either plain or clumsy, perhaps explaining why this is the director's sole film (although this may be an effect of seeing the film in a cropped aspect ratio). No more helpful are the exaggerated attitudes by assorted characters towards the very notion of zoophilia, admittedly not a salubrious practice but hardly worth the violently hysterical reactions its mere discovery seems to lead to, which would have seemed excessive if the subject of so much speechless horror, murderous impulses or sudden outburst of pyromania had been the sudden appearance of Satan himself (I mean the Devil, not the dog used in the film). Likewise, the final "punishment" is visited on a couple who, when all is said and done, had not done anything especially wrong unless one can count having sex with a girl they didn't know had been consorting with a Doberman as particularly heinous. In the light of subsequent legislation adopted in many countries regarding said breed, maybe their "sin" would have been less serious if the canine in question had been a fox terrier. If anything, the two doggy scenes testify to the actresses' physical courage, at least if the opprobrium attached to Doberman dogs is justified, although the staging of the action itself is not too good: in the very first scene, actress Franca Stoppi was obviously instructed to lie down and manually thrust the uninterested-looking animal up and down over her. Among the actors, Leonora Fani is attractive if only marginally more expressive than her four-legged companion; Juliette Mayniel emerges with the most credit; "Cicciolina" Staller turns up among the blasé partygoers; some whining actor playing a private eye manages to be even more grating than Marielle was in Four Flies on Velvet Grey, while, to round it off, Salerno and Paul Muller take it in turns to mope around now and then and look enigmatic. Whether they would have been willing to discuss this film in interviews is not known to me.