Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Una ondata di piacere (1975)

Irem (Al Cliver) and Barbara (Silvia Dionisio) are a good-looking young couple, who, at Cefalù, spy another couple, Giorgio (John Steiner) and Silvia (Elizabeth Turner), water skiing. Giorgio knocks Silvia from her tether, and while she is splashing in the water, Giorgio makes an intentional turn towards her head, almost killing her. Witnessing this cruel display by Giorgio, Barbara and Irem decide to interject themselves into the lives of Giorgio and Silvia and play a game. Barbara quickly seduces Giorgio with her beauty; and eventually, Giorgio invites both Barbara and Irem to accompany himself and Silvia aboard his yacht for a weekend cruise. Soon after boarding the yacht, Barbara and Irem quickly learn that Giorgio and Silvia like to play games, too. Una ondata di piacere (1975) marks a return to cinema after an absence of years for its director, Ruggero Deodato. In his own words, Deodato speaks of its genesis, taken from his interview included as a part of a featurette of the Raro DVD release:

"Waves of Lust" is a film that I didn't really want to do at first. I'd been in the doldrums. I'd shot some comedies but then I was prohibited from making anymore because of competition and various other reasons. In the meantime I'd married a girl [Silvia Dionisio] who started out with me and got very famous. That's why I wanted to distance myself from cinema. The woman's always more important than the man. If I'd made five films in a year, the woman would get more famous by doing just one. And the husband is seen as being past it. I didn't like the idea of that so I started working in advertising. I was very successful but it always felt really sad when I went to Milan and saw a crew arrive from Rome to shoot a film. I'd get depressed.
They'd always call me with an ulterior motive. "Can you bring your wife as well?" My wife was already working with Monicelli and Scola, why should she make B movies with me? Agents in the business would ask me to go and see them and tell me to take my wife too. But she already had an agent. That's why I distanced myself. Then I got the offer to this film, and even though I wasn't keen on the erotic aspect of the story I thought I could steer it into thriller territory and manage to maneuver it out of the erotic ghetto. But I got ripped off, because my wife said: "You not doing this film if I'm not in it." But she couldn't do it, because the female lead was already cast. She said: "You're not making a film with a naked woman if that woman isn't me. As soon as all my other colleagues start to strip off, like Ornella Muti, I want to be able to say I did it with my husband." I told her it was impossible, but she was so persuasive with me and the producers that they annulled the contract with the other actress and my wife did it for a quarter of her normal fee. So for me it was quite a difficult shoot, because not only did I have to get my wife naked, but I had to make sure she came out looking good. It's difficult to direct your wife when she's naked, making her adopt certain positions. She'd say: "Wasn't that okay?" It was more than okay...but it was a very embarrassing shoot. It was even more embarrassing because the film was a huge success. It made a fortune. But my wife lost a contract because of it. Actually it was a contract we both had with a production company to advertise a famous liquor. The owner said: "After this film I don't want either of you."
In Cannibal Holocaust and The Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato, Deodato relates this version of the film's genesis:

The producers Marras and Salviani, offered me the chance to make an erotic film; this style of movie was in fashion at the time. Muti, Giorgi, and Agnostina Belli were the pioneers and then everyone started doing it. I had planned to shoot that film with another actress, who at the last minute refused to be film naked. So I put forward my wife's name to the producers; at that time she was a star and had never got undressed before the cameras. She accepted the part only because her peers were doing this sort of film at the time. (p. 14, FAB Press, Surrey, U.K., edited by Harvey Fenton, 1999.) Una ondata di piacere benefits from its tight and almost primary setting, Giorgio’s yacht, four characters, with each actor giving an effective performance, and a willingness to be provocative, leaving the conservative perhaps back at shore. It is a film about power and its perversity, its ridiculousness, and its attraction. John Steiner’s Giorgio is the most overt character with the most stereotypical rendition of power. Giorgio’s wealthy, competitive, and possessive; and perhaps as a result of these traits, he is cruel. He enjoys berating and abusing his wife, Silvia. Giorgio refuses a business deal with a down-on-his-luck colleague, and it is intimated in a later scene that this colleague committed suicide because of this refusal. Giorgio could have helped, exclaims Silvia, but he didn’t want to, intimating that Giorgio took some pleasure in rebuffing his colleague. In another sequence on the yacht, Irem overhears Giorgio tells his lawyer via phone to close a deal with its end result being the unemployment of six hundred workers. Giorgio doesn’t care in the least, and this irks Irem. Dionisio’s Barbara immediately realizes Giorgio’s nature, and as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Barbara’s plan is to seduce Giorgio. However, she is never going to complete the seduction: the ultimate punishment is to deny Giorgio what he wants the most. For someone so driven and possessive and cruel like Giorgio, to be denied anything could kill him. Barbara’s plan does not work as conceived. The perversity of Una ondata di piacere reveals itself during the second act. Elizabeth Turner’s Silvia reveals herself as not a victim but as very complacent in her position. In their cabin, Barbara and Irem stare incredulously as they hear Giorgio and Silvia have sex in their cabin. Barbara remarks, humorously, from the noises that they are making now, one would never think that they tried to kill each other earlier that day. Irem remarks that they seem like a master and happy slave. Barbara still attempts to exact her plan but she is never able to make any effective headway. Meanwhile, Irem develops a blossoming obsession towards Silvia. Like Barbara, Silvia seems to enjoy seducing Irem yet keeping him effectively at bay. Silvia’s character takes a perverse turn, as does Barbara‘s--when the third act begins, Barbara changes her plan, and when the credits roll, the viewer will certainly be questioning her cruelty. Ruggero Deodato has always been a court jester of cinema, enjoying being willful and provocative for the sake of being so. I admire this tremendously. The thriller plot of Una ondata di piacere is tired; and the real interest of the film is in watching these characters reveal their different layers with totally unexpected results. In fact, as much as Una ondata di piacere is touted as an erotic film, Deodato shoots the film as if it weren’t: the film has an organic style, none of the nudity or the sex is particularly treated with flourish. When Turner and Dionisio disrobe in front of each other, Deodato’s composition doesn’t change. Like a conversation, the inclusion of any skin into the frame just continues. When Irem attempts to fuck Silvia, Deodato shoots them on the small staircase leading from the cabin to the upper deck. There’s nothing special about the setting nor the atmosphere: there’s only Irem’s obsession and Silvia’s seduction. Any eroticism from the film is generated from the actors: gorgeous Dionisio is as seductive in her jeans and hooded sweatshirt walking the streets of Cefalù as she is sunbathing topless on the deck of the yacht. Deodato’s primary composition of Dionisio is a facial close-up. Cliver and Turner generate heat in their few sequences, and Steiner, perhaps intentionally with his performance, looks buffoonish in his sexual scenes. Una ondata di piacere is unexpected in Deodato style and is worth seeing if not just for Silvia Dionisio’s precious performance. She captures every frame and is the very definition of charismatic. While Steiner’s character is the most overt and Turner’s character the most subverted, Dionisio’s character is the most unexpected and holds the most mystery. Una ondata di piacere is a rare film in Deodato’s filmography, rarely spoken of, but like most of his cinema, very provocative and compelling and certainly worthy of seeking out.

1 comment:


Nice review Hans, I'm definitely going to check this one out. I'm a newcomer to Deodato, so it will be something new for me. Interesting how he tells two totally different stories about his wife's involvement though?