Sunday, January 24, 2010
DVD Review: THE ALCOVE (Severin)
Set during the years of Italy’s ill-fated imperial drive into East Africa, Joe D’Amato’s ultrasleazy THE ALCOVE plays deeply on disturbing master-slave dynamics of that era for its particular brand of kink. Al Cliver (DEVIL HUNTER) plays an aristocrat returning from the front with one impressive spoil of war, an Abyssinian princess played by legendary Eurosex goddess Laura Gemser. He returns home to a domestic situation already brimming with erotic confusion as his wife, Allessandra ( BEING TWENTY’s Lili Carati) has begun an affair with the secretary (LAURE’s Annie Belle ) hired to aid him in writing his war-time memoirs. The addition of Gemser to this hothouse of potentially dangerous sensuality causes the whole thing to boil over. Soon, Belle and Cliver are out of favor with the wife, who has succumbed to the savage charms of the African slave-queen. Throw in a leering brute of a gardener (spaghetti western and Poliziotteschi vet Nello Pazzafini) to the volatile mix and you know events are bound to end with the usual violence and rape. Tables are turned, dynamics are reversed, and reversed again, and the film ends with an actually somewhat shocking, fiery conclusion.
The film is enflamed with political incorrectness as an aid to its erotic aims. There are several references to Gemser as nothing more than an animal, which seems to be a driving factor in the film’s view of her sensual allure, for both the characters and the intended audience. The racist implications of Italy’s African colonial adventure are played out in an almost satirical manner in this porno/chamber drama, serving needs both lascivious and political. The shifting power dynamics both cultivate and expose racist attitudes in what is ultimately a rather confusing mish-mash of intentions. Gemser gains the upper hand over all the other characters in the film, revealing herself to be the most powerful and headstrong in the ensemble. The climax of the film has Gemser orchestrating a filmed rape of Belle by Pazzafini and Carati in a nun’s habit. With this humiliation Gemser enacts a cultural revenge for her own violation at the hands of Cliver. But there is yet another reversal of fortunes which serves to only re-emphasize the racial status quo of the time period.
But still, with all that, THE ALCOVE is great Eurotrash entertainment. Gemser is a powerful presence throughout, and her performance carries the dramatic thrust of the film. But even she possibly couldn’t have saved this from being a dreary and/or completely offensive movie without the deft cinemagraphic hand of Director D’Amato. His beautiful compositions and lighting give THE ALVOVE a classy sumptuousness it almost certainly does not deserve. And then of course there’s just the ironic thrill of the offensiveness itself. There is no way in hell a movie like this could be made anywhere in the world today, making it a unique artifact. If you’re of the right mindset, and most readers of this blog probably are, the constant non-p.c. sleaze on display will make you light up like Christmas. I had never seen this one before this fine DVD, and it only deepens my appreciation for Joe D’Amato as both a cinematic craftsman of a high order and as filmic pimp and conman, letting you peep in on a world you’d never want to live in but might just be very curious about nonetheless.
Severin’s DVD looks pretty good. It’s flagged for progressive playback, it’s anamorphic, roughly the correct aspect ratio and the colors are strong. There’s a constant high level of grain throughout, betraying the low-budget origins of the movie which the otherwise beautiful cinematography might hide. It is a little on the soft side, but that just may be the style of the film, sort of dreamy, hot and hazy. There is some film damage near the end of the movie, but this is never distracting, and only reinforces the grindhouse-y nature of the whole spectacle. An old battered trailer, likely sourced from a VHS is included as an extra along with a short but interesting video interview with D’Amato. Done in the mid-1990s, when ole Joe was still among the living, it covers mostly his Emanuelle movies with Gemser. While it isn’t groundbreaking, you’ve probably heard most of this stuff before, it’s great for this obscure footage to finally get an airing. D’Amato is a director who greatest auteurial fame has been posthumous so any thing with expressing his own views on his work is of high value to his many late-arriving fans. All in all, a fine presentation of a great, if outright offensive, European cult sex film and highly recommended to all readers of this blog.