Synopsis: In his 2006 obituary, The New York Times called Walerian Borowczyk “the internationally known filmmaker described variously as a genius, a pornographer, and a genius who also happened to be a pornographer.” And for the final film in his ‘Immoral Trilogy’, Borowczyk created one of the most lushly bizarre erotic tales of our time and perhaps the most ambitious work of his entire career.
The setting is Rome, 8 A.D., where the poet Ovid watches over an epoch of forbidden seduction and unnatural acts among maidens, centurions, servant girls and the occasional farm animal. Marina Pierro (Behind Convent Walls), Laura Betti (Pasolini’s Teorema), Milena Vukotic (Andy Warhol’s Dracula) and Massimo Girotti (Last Tango In Paris) star in this sumptuous art/smut classic, now fully restored – including the Roman Orgy sequence – and presented uncut and uncensored for the first time ever in America.
Ars amandi 4.0
eyelights: the basis for the film, Ovid’s works.
eyesores: the weak script. the sloppy direction. its general incoherence.
‘Ars Amandi’ is based on Ovid’s work ‘Ars amatoria’*. A Roman Poet, Ovid wrote this series of three instructional tomes that show men how to seduce a woman and sustain her interest. The third book was his attempt at striking a balance, offering his advice to women so that they too would have “ammunition”.
This motion picture is basically Walerian Borowczyk’s attempts at translating the book to screen. What he does is have Massimo Girotti, as Ovid, read incessantly from the works, over a visual interpretation of these actions – in what amounts to an extremely loose story about a woman taking a lover while her husband is off to war.
The story is so simple and yet most of the film doesn’t make any sense. The fact that we aren’t introduced to Ovid doesn’t help, because we are left wondering who this guy is and how he factors into the story – all he does is lecture a bunch of students, some of whom run off and try to use their new-found knowledge.
The main characters are also sketchy. We see them, we know who they are contextually, but we never know anything about them nor do we understand their motivations – their behaviours being so random sometimes as to leave us confused. All we are aware of are their lascivious intentions and then we see them act out on it in some fashion or other.
Personally, I blame both the script and the direction. Neither were coherent: a lot of important story elements (ex: the murder by the husband) were off screen, as though the camera had been misplaced and/or there wasn’t enough coverage, the editing was horrid, the staging piss-poor, and some parts were simply not explained properly at all, depending wholly on Ovid’s words to make sense of it all.
…which it didn’t.
The sexy stuff somehow didn’t even feel sexy. Okay, there was some nudity. Some. There was some lovemaking. Some. There was even a few poorly-inserted graphic sequences showing a vulva and erect penises (but no actual intercourse). But it wasn’t sexy at all. Borowczyk obviously forgot that the primary sex organ is the brain, and didn’t properly stimulate it, relying instead on disjointed images to do the trick.
…which it didn’t.
Even Marina Pierroa, who was unforgettable in ‘Les héroïnes du mal‘, was a shadow of her former self; I didn’t even recognize her. This is four years later, it must be said, so it’s not unusual that she had lost some of her loveliness by then, time being what it is. She remains attractive, of course, but the magic is gone.
It didn’t help that this was a terrible English dub of the original Italian production. It’s funny because ‘Les héroïnes du mal’ and ‘Collections privées’ both have the original language track and English subtitles, but this one didn’t. It really suffered for it: not only did the synching not work, naturally, but the voice acting was bloody awful.
The only thing that I really enjoyed in this film was the ending. You will laugh, of course, and think that I mean that it was the relief of not having to watch any more of this drivel, but I actually mean the final twist of the picture. It was ill-suited in many ways, but I nonetheless enjoyed it – it was a breath of fresh air after 90 minutes of drivel.
It’s a real shame, because I love the concept of making a film based on Ovid’s work. Mira Nair did a similar thing with the Kama Sutra and, although, it was slightly trite, for the most part made it work. Unfortunately, Borowczyk’s film fails on too many counts to be worth seeing, and I can’t recommend it as cinema nor as titillation. This one is for Borowczyk completists only.
*Nota bene: ‘Ars Amandi’ and ‘Ars Amatoria’ both mean “The art of love”, but the former is in Latin whereas the latter is Italian. The only reason I can think of for choosing the former is because it’s a French-Italian co-production and the producers might have wanted to find a common ground. Otherwise, why not stick with the original?
Date of viewing: June 17, 2013