How do Catholics enjoy sex when the always glowing threat of sin is bestowed upon them by God’s rightful sword? Well, for starters you could seek out the advice of your local priest and try to work out issues that are obviously at odds like pleasure and guilt. A forgotten but very accurate portrait of mid-seventies Italy, the film captures some of the most sensitive problems that had to be faced by Catholic women like prenuptial intercourse, open weddings and homosexuality. Interlaced with real comments by priests, psychologists, sexologist, social workers, and intellectuals, Sex Advice tells the story of the difficult path Italians had to walk to achieve sexual freedom.
eyelights: its look at sexual mores in Italy before the sexual revolution.
eyesores: its dubious sources of information. the choppy editing. the heavy vibe.
I stumbled upon ‘Sesso in confessionale’ in a local indie video store. It was an odd duck: branded ‘Sex Advice’ in English, it suggested that it was a documentary. Except that it was mildly ambiguous and its packaging suggested an exploitation film. I was very curious to find out just what the heck it was, and kept eyeing it. But I wasn’t going to fork over 30$.
So I rented it.
Released in 1974, this film purports to document the sexual mores in Italy at the time, what with the impact of the sexual revolution in a culture dominated by the Catholic Church. It even parades a few experts (such as a psychoanalyst, a theologian, a sociologist, and a journalist) onto the screen to discuss the issues in a more sober fashion, to give it credibility.
Except that their legitimacy was in doubt, especially in light of the priests’ own assertions – whose advice varied from one priest to the next. It was hard to believe that any of this was real: after all, sexy sequences were edited in, making me wonder if this wasn’t just another pseudo documentary, à la ‘The Oral Generation‘, whose main purpose was titillation.
It didn’t help that much of the footage looked so old that I imagined it was from the mid-’60s, not the mid’-70s. Or that even the “real” footage was flimsy: for instance, at one point they interview women going to confession (A lot of time is spent in confession, as women ask their priests for advice about their sex lives), and all of them are overdubbed in post-production.
In any event, many topics were covered, from making out to petting to feelings of guilt, to the Catholic Church’s negative and repressive views of women, how women are told that sex is sin, leaving them conflicted even after marriage, how planned parenthood was desirable but the Church was against it – so misinformation had a tremendous impact on women’s marriages.
But, again, the information is loosely cobbled together and it’s presented in such strange ways. For example, the film begins with a young couple making out, while a creepy narrator tells the guy what to do in voice-over – and the guy responds in voice-over. Or while discussing the seductive power of the devil, we watch a woman in tatters dance oddly to maniacal female laughs.
My favourite, though, is when we watch two dogs chase each other on a beach, followed by a topless couple running after each other. What the heck kind of parallel were they trying to make? That young people are like dogs in heat? And why make them topless? What’s the practical application of that? Oh, and I loved the super dramatic score in some bits, as though this were a thriller.
Add to this the fact that this DVD was likely sourced from a bad VHS (it was cropped to 4:3, so some of the picture was missing, and there was a dramatic amount of hiss), the uneven subtitles, which didn’t properly translate what was going on (and sometimes even forgot to), and the poor editing, and I simply couldn’t help but to take a break and watch it in two segments.
Still, the surrealistic sexy bit were fun, and it was intriguing to see how the statistics they presented illustrated just how much mores have changed since (at the time, most women learned about something as mundane as petting only between the ages of 20 and 25!), so it’s worth seeing. Especially when you consider that only ten years later, movies like ‘Il diavolo in corpo‘ were being made.
But I’d really want more information on the production of ‘Sesso in confessionale’, its release and impact. Due to its lackluster presentation, and the lack of information to be found online, it makes me think that it was some cheapie exploitation film that was binned and only found the light of day because someone dug it up one day and decided to release it on home video.
As it stands, it’s too sketchy to think anything else.
Date of viewing: January 17, 2016