Mondo Macabro goes arthouse with their Blu-ray of Miklós Jancsó's fleshy Italian-made historical drama PRIVATE VICES, PUBLIC VIRTUES.
A different take on the much-disputed facts of the "Mayerling Affair", the apparent murder-suicide of Rudolf, Crowned Prince of Austria and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera – dramatized twice by Anatole Litvak (once with Danielle Darrieux and Charles Boyer and then with Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer) and by Terrence Young with Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve – PRIVATE VICES, PUBLIC VIRTUES opens with Rudolf (Lajos Balázsovits, BIZALOM) having finally driven away the wife his father made him marry in favor of frolicking nude with his nanny Therese (Laura Betti, HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON) and his half-siblings (NIGHT SUN's Pamela Villoresi and THE KEY's Franco Branciaroli), the product of their father's maneuvering to make his wife the emperor's mistress for his own political gain, around the family's country estate. Isolated by his father's troops – commanded by the general (Ivica Pajer, DAVID AND GOLIATH) who once took such delight in reporting Rudolf's faults to his father and then meeting out punishment – Rudolf hatches a plan with his half-siblings to invite the country's prominent sons and daughters to a drug-fueled orgy and photograph them to scandalize the empire. Announcing in jest amidst the revelry that his father has abdicated the throne, Rudolf proclaims hermaphroditic aristocrat Mary (Teresa Ann Savoy, BAMBINA) and bestows cabinet positions to guests based on their physical assets, but it is his cry to overthrow the old order that gives the emperor the chance to silence the "crazy" heir apparent.
A cause célèbre at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, PRIVATE VICES, PUBLIC VIRTUES was the third of four movies Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó (THE RED AND THE WHITE) made in Italy in concert with partner Giovanna Gagliardo (SUFFOCATING HEAT). In some ways, the film anticipates Tinto Brass' CALIGULA (1979), another historical study of excess and political corruption (also featuring Savoy who had previously appeared in Brass' WWII epic SALON KITTY) awash in zooms. While films like Jancsó's ELECTRA, MY LOVE framed it’s at times blatantly didactic political discourse in something between a pagan rite and hippie happening and was clearly on the side of free will, PRIVATE VICES, PUBLIC VIRTUES presents its protagonist as enabled to flaunt himself and his provocative ideas by the order he wants to overthrow and only discover that there are limits to what the old order will tolerate of them once they have realized that they have nothing to offer after exposing bourgeois hypocrisy. There is more nudity than graphic sex, and more perversion implied than show despite the film's reputation. It remains interesting however both as "Eurotrash meets arthouse" and as part of Jancsó's oeuvre. Porn star turned politician Ilona Staller (THE FACE WITH TWO LEFT FEET) is among the revelers but Villoresi points out in her interview that the porn stars hired for the film were filmed primarily from the waist down.
Unreleased on home video after its stateside release, PRIVATE VICES, PUBLIC VIRTUES was briefly available on an unauthorized Substance DVD edition (who also released a cut and poor-looking transfer of Giuseppe Patroni Griffi's TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE, another slice of arthouse historical erotica with Charlotte Rampling). Transferred from the original camera negative, Mondo Macabro's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen encode of PRIVATE VICES, PUBLIC VIRTUES looks soft with blooming highlights during the English-language opening and closing credits (the margins of which suggest 1.85:1 framing would be ideal) but suddenly takes on a crispness of detail in the first close-up after the credits. The LPCM English and Italian tracks (Rudolf is called Ruggero on the latter) are similarly clean and the optional English subtitles are free of any glaring errors.
Besides the film's trailer (3:00) and Mondo Macabro clip reel, the disc also includes three new interview featurettes. In "The Last Revolution" (30:53), writer Gagliardo discusses her working methods with Jancsó in making a proposal to producers (in this case LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE's Edmondo Amati) and developing a script after scouting locations to see the ways in which Jancsó's camera can move through them. She recalls that the script – written always with Balázsovits in mind for the lead – went through several rewrites on an almost daily basis as Jancsó would become inspired by the locations and the extras they had on set at the time. Gagliardo also served as assistant director on the film, interpreting for the actors who did not also speak French (which Jancsó also spoke). In "In Praise of Lightness" (19:18), actress Villoresi recalls feeling that she did not possess the character's lightness of being since she was working at becoming a serious and disciplined stage actress. She also recalls the cold shoot, working with Branciaroli, Jancsó's directorial style of shouting orders throughout the shoot for the movement of the actors, the extras, and the cameras since it would all be post-dubbed. In "Michael Brooke on Miklós Jancsó" featurette (16:34), the film historian – who has provided appreciation and commentary on a number of Second Run and Arrow arthouse titles in the UK – contrasts the production circumstances in Hungary that allowed Jancsó to freely marshall thousands of army extras for epics like THE RED AND THE WHITE to those of his Italian films (which also lacked his master of the 360 degree pan János Kende). He not only discusses the film's more outrageous elements but also looks at both sides of the reasoning why many international critics gave up on Jancsó at this point and dismissed the film as pornography (it was released in the states as PRIVATE VICES, PUBLIC PLEASURES and THE BIG ORGY in Germany). (Eric Cotenas)
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