France - Italy | 1983
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Marina Pierro
Massimo Girotti
Laura Betti
| 82 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD(R0 - NTSC)
Severin Films
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Review by
Troy Howarth

Rome, 8 AD: The poet Ovid (Massimo Girotti) instructs his pupils on the art of love, and the ensuing orgy of sexual liberation leads to dire consequences...
    Writer/director Walerian Borowczyk (The Beast, 1975) delivers one of his typically lush and overwrought melodramas with Art of Love. The historical backdrop and use of mise en scene gives the film a classy veneer, but the copious nudity and sexual situations would surely have alienated the stuffier members of the art house circuit.
    The film is regarded as the last in his so-called "Immoral Trilogy." The first two installments Immoral Tales (1974) and Immoral Women (1979) adopted a looser anthology structure, but Art of Love seems, at first glance at least, to adhere to a more linear narrative style. Borowczyk, who died in 2006, goes against expectations in the final reel, but up until that point it strikes one as a more conventional affair. That is not to say that the film is bereft of the weird, idiosyncratic touches one expects from the director. Far from it. The dreamy pacing and editing rhythms point to the director's skewed perspective; for some viewers it will prove off-putting and pretentious, but those who can appreciate it are bound to admire its audacity.
    Borowczyk's flair for erotica is evident throughout. The various orgy sequences and copulations are staged with real panache. The film flirts with hardcore imagery but never degenerates into a simplistic skin flick. The director also brings a touch of dark comedy to the proceedings, as the characters' perverse fixations become more and more comic in their overstatement.
    The cast performs fairly well. Leading lady Marina Pierro was a favorite of Borowczyk's she appeared in a total of five films for the director, as well as racking up credits for Jean Rollin (Living Dead Girl) and Luchino Visconti (The Innocent) and it is easy to see why. She's a stunning-looking performer, for sure, but she also possesses the subtlety and nuance to bring her character to life. She helps to anchor the film in reality, which is no easy feat given the overall air of delirium. Michele Placido (Plot of Fear, 1976) is also in fine form as the hotheaded Macarius, while distinguished character actor Girotti (Baron Blood, 1972) is amusing as the sly and wise Ovid. Laura Betti (Twitch of the Death Nerve, 1971) and Milena Vukotic (Blood for Dracula, 1973) are wasted in smaller roles.
    As usual for Borowczyk, the cinematography is first class. There are striking images throughout, and the director's use of framing and editing helps to punch up the various sex scenes. Production values are also impressive, with the recreation of ancient Rome belying what was surely a rather low budget. The score by Luis Bacalov (Django, 1966) isn't really one of the composer's more memorable efforts, but it still adds to the overall impact.
    Ultimately, the film lacks the sheer kinky impact of the director's most infamous films notably The Beast and 1981's Dr. Jekyll and His Women but Art of Love is still worth a look for his fans.

Severin's release of Art of Love marks the film's debut on DVD in the U.S. and the first official, uncut release to be seen in America. The 1.85/16x9 transfer looks very nice. Colors are accurately rendered. Detail is strong, and purists will be pleased to see some grain in the image. The orgy sequence which occurs about 41 minutes in looks a bit rough in comparison, leading one to assume that it was culled from a different print; it was this scene that encountered the most censorship, however, and it's wonderful to have it fully intact. There is also a very bizarre defect at the bottom of the image in a handful of shots towards the end (it starts at the 88 minute mark), but this is not the fault of Severin it seems to have been an issue with something in the camera gate, but one can only guess what it may have been. In any event, Severin have done a fine job by the title. The mono English soundtrack is acceptable. The dubbing is reasonably well done, and the dialogue and music come through clear enough. The only extra is a battered theatrical trailer. 1/21/10