2009 was a prosperous year for Severin Films. They released the long sought after THE SINFUL DWARF, introduced American audiences to such unheralded gems as THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND, resurrected and refined NIGHTMARE CASTLE, unleashed the potent sleazefest HANNA D: THE GIRL FROM VONDEL PARK and entered the Blu-ray market with HARDWARE, SCREWBALLS, EAGLES OVER LONDON and INGLORIOUS BASTARDS. To close out 2009, Severin Films has dipped into the well of Borowczyk, as they did in 2007 with IMMORAL WOMEN and PRIVATE COLLECTIONS, ending the year with more of a whimper than a bang but nonetheless leaving fans eager for what 2010 will have to hold from the criterion of smut.
Set in Rome, circa 8 A.D., Walerian Borowczyk’s ART OF LOVE (Ars amandi) follows solider Macarius (Michele Placido, THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE) as he heads out to battle, leaving his cloistered wife Claudia (Marina Pierro, IMMORAL WOMEN) home alone with only a chambermaid and a cockatoo to keep her company. Left with little to do other than bathe in a giant fish bowl, Claudia escapes reality by fantasizing about encounters both sensual and perverse. One afternoon nap results in Claudia daydreaming about ladies getting fresh with farm animals while another features the brunette crawling inside a hollowed-out heifer statue that allows her to be mounted by a bull! While Claudia gets her freak on, Ovid (Massimo Girotti, BARON BLOOD), the local scholar/dirty old man, educates the local male population about the birds and the bees. One student, Cornelius (Philippe Taccini), decides to put Ovid’s practices to good use, zeroing in on Claudia as his conquest. Ovid's teachings prove to be right on the mark as Claudia and Cornelius strike up a friendship full of benefits, but when Macarius returns home from war, Claudia quickly finds herself with more man than she can handle.
Despite the numerous weird and unnatural sexual fantasies on display, ART OF LOVE struggled to hold my attention. The costumes are well-designed and the sets effective, in particular the giant fish tank bathtub, but the often silly English dubbing squashes any perception that the film is unfolding in ancient Rome. Likewise, the majority of the cast delivers credible performances, including Milena Vukotic (ANDY WARHOL'S DRACULA) who has her own altercation between her husband and her lover, but no one really stand outs, not even the favorable fanny of lead Marina Pierro. Of course I’ve always been more of a Russ Meyer fan than a Tinto Brass man, if you catch my drift. There is also a contemporary twist in the film's final act that feels a bit cheap and out of place, falling somewhere between a M. Night Shyamalan film, post THE SIXITH SENSE, and Bobby Ewing waking up from a cat nap.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), the film leans toward the soft side but I’m not so sure such an effect wasn’t on purpose. The film’s soft focus provides itself an air of eroticism, but when contained within the white walls of a marbled courtyard the effect becomes more blinding than sensual. According to Cathal Tohill's and Pete Tombs' Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984, the producers of ART OF LOVE altered the film without Borowczyk's consent by adding a few brief but explicit scenes of hardcore footage. The print used for this release, which is touted as being uncut and uncensored for the first time in America, would seem to validate such a notion as such explicit scenes, such as the “Roman Orgy’ sequence, appear to be shot on different film stock or taken from another, more weathered print entirely. As it stands the print used is in fairly good shape, save for the film's closing minutes in which there is a very odd abnormality present. Located on the bottom, right side of the screen is the silhouette of a large, stationary object that appears to either be a sewing machine, a rock tumbler or Tom Servo’s head lying on its side. Whatever the object is, it’s of noticeable size and only adds to the odd nature of the film's conclusion. Audio, which is present in a Dolby Digital mono track, fares well, with little distortion and generally clear dialogue. A trailer for the film, which appears to be culled from a video source, stands as this release's only extra feature. (Jason McElreath)
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