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October 07, 2014

The Slave

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Scacco alla regina / Check to the Queen
Pasquale Festa Campanile - 1969
Mondo Macabro DVD Region 1 / BD Region A two disc set

Because she never appeared in any films that either got stateside theatrical release or any serious critical attention, I had made the assumption that Eric Rohmer's La Collectionneuse was the beginning, and end, of Haydee Politoff's acting career. I had forgotten that she also appeared in Rohmer's Love in the Afternoon. Seeing here name prominently listed for this film sparked my curiosity. Even though she is second billed here, Politoff has the title role. One can possibly interpret The Slave as being somewhat allegorical regarding Politoff's career as an actress, being passive about her choice of roles, going where the offer was most financially rewarding, and drifting away from acting when the producers stopped calling for her.

The opening titles of The Slave are printed over colored versions of Rorschach ink blots. Festa Campanile emphasizes the psychological aspects of the story over the erotic, which may well explain why the film failed at the box office. The film was one of a handful of films Festa Campanile made, hoping to repeat the international success of The Libertine. Most of eroticism here involves the masochistic fantasies of Sylvia, the character played by Politoff, on the receiving end of a woman's whip, the action obscured by heavily tinted lenses. The original title refers to a movement in a chess game, something apparently explained better in the source novel than in the film.

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Sylvia takes on the job of being a non-sexual companion to the actress, Margaret, to keep from being bored with her upper class existence, giving her the illusion that she is doing something with her life. There is something self-contradictory as Sylvia also chooses to live in the most isolated way possible, away from as much outside stimulus as possible. Sylvia surrenders herself to Margaret, picking up after her, dressing as ordered, allowing herself to be transformed into a living statue, or become her footrest. Sylvia also deliberately gets caught with Margaret's lovers in order to be punished by Margaret. Yet in spite of living in an all female household, save for the chauffeur, Margaret has no sexual interest in other women, and toys with Sylvia's sapphic desires before ultimately rejecting her.

The Slave may be of greatest interest to those who love the films primarily from Italy and France that appeared in the late Sixties and early Seventies. The sexual subject matter was in part a reaction to the newly-enacted ratings code in the U.S., itself a reaction acknowledging that audiences were flocking to European films with their brief glimpses of nudity and more adult themes. One of supplements is a discussion of the films by Festa Campanile by critic Roberto Curti. There are also some trailers to other films by Festa Camanile. The brief look as Con quale amore, con quanto amore, with one woman slowly removing the stocking from another woman as a prelude to lovemaking, is quite sexually charged.

I suspect that Pasquale Festa Campanile's film will be remembered better for the sets and costumes, and serve as a snapshot of a certain era. A couple of the more memorable images are of star Rosanna Schiaaffino, seen on a floor surrounded by paper lira, and as a visual reference to the film's thematic concerns, as a Venus in fur.

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Posted by peter at October 7, 2014 07:16 AM