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August 29, 2005

Devil in the Flesh

Il Diavolo in Corpo
Marco Bellochio - 1986
No Shame Region 0 DVD

Devil in the Flesh is, for me, a difficult film to evaluate. While it uses Raymond Radiguet's short novel as the basis of the film story, the adaptation is so loose that the film lacks the novel's context of a love affair as an act of rebellion against middle class mores. Bellochio's updating of the story against the backdrop of the Red Brigade trials lacks the weight of Radiguet's semi-autobiographical story which coincides with the first World War.

The original novel was about a French teenager, about 16 years old, and his clandestine affair with a young married woman only two years older than himself. The woman's husband is a soldier who is in the field fighting during most of the affair. The young man expresses cavalier attitudes towards those active in the war, and eventually mistreats the woman. Bellochio ups the age of the young man, Andrea, to 18, and has the object of his affection be the fiancee, Giulia, of a former Red Brigades member, Giacomo, on trial. Bellochio has made a film, Good Morning, Night, that is directly about the Red Brigades. In this film, the political aspects seem almost besides the point. The film works better when seen simply as an examination of what the French would call l'amour fou.

In the interview with Bellochio that is part of the DVD, Bellochio explains how he sees Devil in the Flesh as pivotal in his career. As the theatrical release of his films has been inconsistent, and there are several films still unavailable on tape or DVD, this is difficult to clearly evaluate. Certainly this film is less overtly political in comparison with such early efforts as Fists in His Pocket and China is Near. The conflicts of family relationships, usually a major theme throughout Bellochio's career, is muted in this film. Likewise, the impact of the Catholic Church is significantly less here than in the earlier In the Name of the Father or the more recent Religion Hour. Based on the descriptions of the two films made following Devil in the Flesh, Bellochio explored the theme of erotic love further.

While Devil in the Flesh is best known for an unsimulated scene of oral sex, this too is a minor part to the overall scheme of the film. The affair overwhelms the lovers' sense of responsibility. The woman risks her impending marriage which is viewed as a means of helping her imprisoned fiance gain the bourgeoise respectability needed for integration back in society. The young man ignores his school work in his crucial year before presumably attending a university. The former Red Brigades member speaks longingly about being mediocre, while Andrea's father also gives himself that identification. Devil in the Flesh concludes with Andrea in his final exams at school, ambivalently following the expected path determined by society.

The political aspects of Devil in the Flesh are remote for American audiences. The closest to domestic terrorism experienced in the United States since the Viet Nam era would probably be the Oklahoma City bombing. The kind of domestic terrorism experienced in Italy is more abstract. Bellochio shows that Giulia is the daughter of a man who was killed by a terrorist as noted on a public monument. Giulia is also engaged to a former terrorist. This seeming self-contradiction is not explained in any way, and Giulia appears totally apolitical. Again, the political concerns of the film are weak, not only within the context of the film, but in comparison with Bellochio's other work. The enclosed booklet is indespensible as it includes an overview of Italy and the Red Brigades as well as excerpts from an interview Bellochio made at the time of Devil in the Flesh which more clearly conveys his intentions.

There is a moment of visual poetry. Andrea is climbing up the rope on the side of an apartment building under some kind of construction. The roof of the building seemingly vanishes into the night sky, underneath the very big moon. The shot is composed to make it appear that Andrea is literally climbing into the night.

It is worth noting that Raymond Radiguet's novel has been filmed several times. The most famous film version, directed by Claude Autant-Lara in 1946 is unavaila
ble on DVD at this time. The most recent version, made for French television in 1990 has a screenplay written by Catherine Breillat. This is somewhat ironic as the on screen sex that Bellochio briefly explored in his version of Devil in the Flesh has virtually defined the career of Breillat.

I am adding a note from NoShame's Joyce Shen:

The first 3000 copies of DEVIL IN THE FLESH include a coupon for a free poster. Well... it turns out there's been a mistake in the printing of the coupon. The coupons are still good, but as you'll see, the self-addressed sticker part was a little too much for our printers to handle. However, the promotion is still happening, so please return the coupon (with your name and address) to:

NoShame Films
P.O. BOX 5095
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745-0095

We apologize for any inconveniences and we ensure that all coupons we receive will be processed for the free poster. Thanks for your patience and understanding in this matter

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 29, 2005 03:42 PM