Monday, August 22, 2011

La chiave (1983)

Despite its "erotic" moniker, Tinto Brass's La chiave (1983) is about freedom inasmuch as it is about sex. Based upon the novel, The Key, by Junichiro Tanziaki, La chiave is about a husband and wife who explore their sexual relationship through each other's diary. One spouse reads the other's and vice versa, leading to an awakening for both. Brass sets his film in 1940s Venice (for reasons that he states in his interview included as a supplement on the Cult Epics DVD release) to imagine a time when there was formalism in a marriage. That is to say, Brass sets his film during a time when sexual matters were not spoken of openly between spouses. Second, and most interestingly, Brass was intrigued by the idea of this matter of privacy between a husband and wife set during a very public moment. The resulting intimacy of the film is heightened, and the quest for freedom, undeniably, takes on more power. The professor (Frank Finlay) is married to Teresa (Stefania Sandrelli). They have a daughter, Lisa (Barbara Cupisti), and their close friend is Laszlo (Franco Branciaroli). Lisa is taken with Laszlo, but by all appearances, Laszlo is attracted to Teresa. The professor is very attracted to his wife, yet he cannot create a satisfactory sexual life with her. He begins to imagine her and create her in a different way: with the aid of Laszlo's camera, the professor begins photographing his wife in various positions. This leads him no closer to any intimacy yet only fuels his imagination. Subsequently, he fills his diary with his desires and leaves the key to his locked desk in the open. Teresa finds his diary and reads it and is in turn inspired to open up her life. Teresa begins a courtship with Laszlo, much to the dismay of her daughter, Lisa. Teresa awakens sexually while the professor grows ill.One of the key aspects of La chiave is that there are risks, limits, and sacrifices in attempting to obtain freedom. The professor does eventually reach an emotional intimacy with Teresa at the cost of the realization that he always loved her intensely yet was never going to be able to express those emotions towards her physically. The end result is that Teresa, upon her sexual awakening, finds love in the arms of another with Laszlo. As the professor grows ill and wastes away, Teresa comes to terms with the love for her husband. By the end, she has a new life waiting for her with Laszlo. Intuitively, one must think that the result is irony, but perhaps not. Freedom is presented in La chiave as a foreign concept with its results being unknown. This uncertainty is borne from fear. In one scene, Lisa, Laszlo, and Teresa are spending an afternoon together and decide to stop in a cafe to wait out the rain. Lisa is summoned away so Laszlo and Teresa are left alone. Teresa becomes frightened and wants to go home. Why? She's afraid of her desires which have now become stronger. She's afraid to let go. Likewise, as the professor grows ill (Finlay gives a very tragic performance), he realizes that his attempts to create his wife into someone she is not, he has lost precious time in appreciating and loving who she is. There is a particularly tender moment after the professor suffers a seizure. One of the reasons that Tinto Brass's cinema, especially his erotic cinema, is appreciated is that, like a horror author who indulges his/her own fear, Brass is in touch with what he finds sexy. In his interview included as a supplement on the Cult Epics DVD, Brass reminisces on the 1940s and why they are an important period in his cinema. There's an innocence and secretive nature to sexuality, almost incidental. Garters and stockings and high heels are some of his fetishes. In the film's best erotic scene, the professor is imagining a coupling between Laszlo and Teresa. While Laszlo undresses, Teresa teases Laszlo with a series of poses. None of Teresa's positions are vulgar, and if one looks closely, she is mimicking many a classic pose of paintings of centuries past. The professor grows jealous of Laszlo seeing a private and intimate moment of beauty from his wife. All of Brass’s trademark fetishes are present. The viewer gets very close to the intimacy of the film, and perhaps this is where Brass is most successful with La chiave. Cupisti as Lisa gives a subdued and sad performance, as her character eventually watches her father succumb to his illness and also watches her mother steal the heart of the man whom she loves. In the hands of a less adept actress, this role might be over shadowed, but Cupisti shines. Finlay is perfect as the professor. At times he seems a dry and staid academic, while at others, Finlay is animated and vibrant. He has a wonderful expressive face, so those Tarkovsky-ian tragic moments, like the professor sitting alone in a cafe, are really felt with his performance. Sandrelli literally and figuratively bares all in La chiave in a high risk performance which she executes with the utmost certainty. She is undeniably amazingly beautiful and she easily conveys her inner beauty and transformation as La chiave unfolds. La chiave is a turning point in Tinto Brass cinema and an important film in the evolution of erotic cinema.


Aaron said...

What's up, brother? Nice to see you dropping some reviews on us once again. I have to admit, I'm pretty under-watched when it comes to Tinto Brass. Actually, the only Brass film I've seen is SALON KITTY, which is excellent.

Have you seen THE HOWL? I tried watching that one a few months back, but it ended up being almost unwatchable because of the poor audio/picture quality of the DVD.

Hans A. said...

Hey Aaron,

There's quite a bit of Brass cinema out there. His late sixties stuff is cool. I've even see a Western that he made. He's most well known for Salon Kitty and Caligula, but his later work is in a completely different direction. He's more arthouse than grindhouse, in my opinion. I might do some more Brass in the future. I don't know.

Looking forward to more reader reviews, Aaron, and talk to you soon.

Dr.LargePackage said...

Great review, Hans. I think this parade of erotic movie reviews should continue until we all are satiated. Something for everybody is large and in charge.