If La chiave (1983) is D.H. Lawrence, then L'alcova (1985) is Henry Miller. Well, not quite. Joe D'Amato's L'alcova found its commercial inspiration in Tinto Brass's film, and while the film lacks poetry, it certainly does not lack a charming vulgarity, visual beauty, and purity in an exploitative sense. L'alcova oscillates from latent offensiveness to patent offensiveness with the film being continuously offensive. Joe D'Amato's period piece begins in holy-shit territory and never leaves. For this film to exist and to be one of his most successful films (Spaghetti Nightmares, edited by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta, Fantasma Books, Key West, Florida, 1996, p. 80), I am simultaneously offended and impressed. Whenever these conflicting emotions from me are elicited from art, I don't fight it. I also relish the opportunity to see my favorite Italian actress, Lilli Carati, in just about anything.L'alcova stars four titans of European Cult Cinema. Elio (Al Cliver) returns home to his indulgent wife, Alessandra (Carati), after a military campaign. Having won a victory over a tribe during his campaign, the tribal leader awarded Elio his daughter, Zerbal (Laura Gemser) as a prize. (Yes, you're reading this correctly.) Elio has brought Zerbal back to his lush villa to live. While Elio was away Alessandra kept herself busy with secretary, Velma (Annie Belle). Neither Alessandra nor Velma are happy to see Zerbal. Elio begins to produce income for the household by writing a book. He gives Zerbal to Alessandra as a servant, much to the disapproval of Velma.
D'Amato dispenses with lofty ideals for his narrative of L'alcova and employs various soap-opera trists. Someone is having sex with someone during almost the entire duration of the film, and D'Amato stayed with his strengths--handsome photography and production while delivering quite a bit of sensational material. L'alcova's singular setting, the villa, intensifies the action, so these characters are going to create their own traps and pitfalls. The notable character arc is with Gemser's Zerbal and Carati's Alessandra. Indulgent Alessandra enjoys being dominant, but as the film unfolds she becomes more seduced by Zerbal. By the end of the second act, it is Zerbal who is in command and Alessandra who is doing her bidding. L'alcova has a genuine point of no return. Elio's book plans to produce income do not come to fruition. Therefore, he embarks upon a journey to see a woman whose identity Elio learned from a man within his company. This woman is in possession of two films, what modern audiences would later call "stag" films. Elio negotiates a price and takes them. He also purchases a camera and tells Velma and Alessandra upon arrival at the villa, that they are "going into the motion picture business." With Elio's statement, D'Amato begins his third act with all the participants collecting together to watch the films, become aroused, and convinced that they can make a better one. The film becomes, unsurprisingly, more outlandish and patently offensive.
D'Amato had just finished filming Anno 2020 - I gladiatori del futuro, The Blade Master, and Endgame, and seemingly, he still had action movie mentality running through his veins. The plot of L'alcova is like an action film, building upon its action sequences, leading to bigger and better explosions. No pun intended, L'alcova works in the same way: the plot is a vehicle for a series of sexual escapades and episodes, each growing a little steamier or a little kinkier along the way. Unfortunately, all of the characters are rather repellent, so what the viewer is left with is a soft-to-hard core film. It's sensational, exploitation cinema, handsomely filmed, and filled with participants, each giving especially erotic performances. Lilli Carati gave one of my favorite performances in Fernando di Leo's Avere vent'anni (1978). In that film, she radiated energy and beauty. Her character personified the themes of the film and without her performance, it would not rank as one of di Leo’s best. Seeing her in L’alcova is quite different. Carati seems very cold and sophisticated and detached. This role almost appears as the beginning of the end for Carati’s career. When I watch her adeptly draw a line of cocaine to share with Gemser’s Zerbal, I shudder a bit. She would never replicate the energy from Avere vent’anni, again. Cliver and Gemser give perfunctory performances. Belle stands out from the others. She seems to have embraced her role of Velma. In all of her scenes, she imbues her performance with emotion and she works the dramatic range. Unsurprisingly, Belle gives the best performance. To D’Amato’s credit, L’alcova is a pretty hot film. It’s memorable for its participants and its overtly non-”politically correct” stature. D’Amato’s photography is in its top form. L’alcova would be followed by three films, all period pieces, and each features Carati. As L’alcova stands, it’s only for fans of its participants.