THE SLAVE (1969) Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Pasquale Festa Campanile
Mondo Macabro

Mondo Macabro make their Blu-ray debut with a limited edition combo pack of Italian psychedelic S&M goodness with THE SLAVE.

When her husband takes a business trip to Tokyo, wealthy but delicate Silvia (Haydee Politoff, COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE) takes a job as a female companion to actress Margaret (Rosanna Schiaffano, THE WITCH IN LOVE) through poor childhood friend Dina (Daniela Surina, THE DEAD ARE ALIVE) who is now the actress' personal assistant. Margaret is not looking for company or stimulating conversation, however; she is looking for the same silence and obedience she expects from her servants but without the immediate reward of cash. Capricious Margaret tests the younger woman's obedience and reminds her constantly that she can do what she wants with her. She uses Silvia as a model for her clothes and costumes (sometimes just for mockery), has her double in scenes in her latest film – by kinky and intellectual filmmaker Valdman (Visconti regular Romolo Valli, THE LEOPARD) – in which she must be slapped and spanked, and even as a living nude statue at a party. Silvia easily submits herself to these indignities as well as Margaret's punishment when she catches her with her driver/lover Spartaco (Aldo Giuffrè, WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS). Silvia's desire to be not only degraded but actually enslaved disturbs Margaret, and the two enter into a battle of wills as Silvia maneuvers and manipulates Margaret for all her excesses further than may be willing to go.

Directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile (HITCH HIKE), SCACCO ALLA REGINA or CHECK TO THE QUEEN – Mondo Macabro's THE SLAVE title comes from the English translation of the Renato Ghiotti source novel – belongs to the classier tier of European (it's an Italian/West German co-production) erotica before the genre had yet to be divided up into the softcore and hardcore designations, when pop-art design, décor, and costumes were just as sensuous as the bared flesh. The Techniscope cinematography of Roberto Gerardi (RING OF DEATH) sports many compositions worthy of framing, with a major component of them being the pop-art production design of Flavio Morgherini (who would later direct the giallo THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE). Piero Piccioni fans may be more familiar with the gorgeous soundtrack – particularly the Edda dell'Orso vocalized main theme – than with the film itself since it been available on LP and CD in Italy as well as a Japanese import CD (when that was the most accessible source for North American viewers to get international scores) and as cues on some of the Cinevox "Easy Tempo" compilations.

Apart from two heterosexual encounters of the women with Margaret's co-star Franco (Gabrielle Tinti, EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS), the sexual content is restricted to the repeated dressing and undressing of Silvia by Margaret; although one comes to realize that the nature of the dynamic between the two is not really about lesbian attraction (even Silvia's psychedelic are about sexual pleasure derived from degradation by another woman rather than actual sexual contact). Unlike other examples of mainstream erotica from the period (Italy and otherwise), the film does not try to pathologize the relationship for moral purposes; that is, until the ending which disappointingly differs greatly from the book (as confirmed in one of the disc interviews, but even before watching that I was expecting something along the lines of the final scene in Fassbinder's THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT). It is not a film about sadomasochism in all of its contractual relationships and bondage accoutrements. Instead, Silvia's fantasies of degradation being possibly the flipside of the other wealthy and aristocratic characters' marveling about the concept of "slavery in this socialist century" and the possibility of owning a slave (during the auction scene, the guests bid while musing "if only it were real"). The film may disappoint those whose genre interests do not encompass the extremes of sixties Radley Metzger and seventies to eighties Joe D'Amato (which I admit are certainly fun), but Politoff and Schiaffano are so compulsively watchable and the "chess game" in which Silvia is the only knowing player has the viewer expecting a sting-in-the-tail ending. The final shot is suitably ambiguous to undo some of the damage of the changed ending, but Campanile's direction largely flows at an even without any highs or lows; as such, the plot gives us suspense but no real tension.

Mondo Macabro's first Blu-ray impresses with a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer with sharp detail, stable colors, and no artifacting in any of the more complex pop art patterns in the backgrounds or the wardrobe (the transfer was mastered by David MacKenzie who worked on Mondo Macabro's Jess Franco DVDs who rejected the noise-reduced master Italian lab LVR supplied and worked from the original scan). Spices flash by in a couple shot changes, but they are not distracting. The Italian LPCM 1.0 mono is clean but only particularly vibrant when it comes to the Piccioni music cues, although this is a shortcoming of the original recording. The English subtitles on the Blu-ray are not burned-in but they do not appear to be removable.

Extras start off with an interview with critic Roberto Curti (27:35) who discusses director Campanile's beginnings as a writer – including his work for noted directors like Elio Petri (L'ASSASSINO) and Luchino Visconti (ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS and THE LEOPARD) – including collaborations with fellow writer Massimo Franciosa leading up to their joint directorial effort. Campanile favored comedies with a touch of social satire and had a hit with the 1968 film THE LIBERTINE (released here by Radley Metzger's Audubon Films). THE SLAVE's source novel was already succès de scandale, and the production had the makings of an important film. Alfredo Bini (THE SNAKE GOD) had produced a number of noteworthy Pier Paolo Pasolini films, his wife Schiaffano had international recognition from co-productions like Vincente Minelli's TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN, Politoff was popular after Eric Rohmer's LA COLLECTIONEUSE (and the Bini-produced BORA BORA), and the script was adapted by Fellini scenarists Tulio Pinelli (LA DOLCE VITA) and Brunello Rondi (who later directed EMANUELLE IN EGYPT). The Italian censors only asked for cuts to the film's two mild sex scenes between Schiaffano and Tinti and Politoff and Tinti. Critics praised the film's technical attributes but the response was otherwise negative. The film disappeared quickly, was not dubbed for English export, and did not have an Italian video release. Curti also discusses the differences between the novel and film. Silvia is a more cunning and vain character who wants to be an object adored and idolized by a woman (a man's adoration would be too vulgar). She regards the maneuvers she takes to manipulate Margaret as moves on a chessboard (making more sense of the title). The ending is also entirely different, and Curti suggests the film's ending gave it a moral that would please the censors.

Also included is an interview with Justin Harries (19:09) of the London Filmbar 70 film club in which he discusses Italian genre film, especially the "Commedia all'Italiana" in the context of the ways other genres including giallo, crime, and sex films inevitably cycle around to parody as they cannibalize their own elements (in the case of the latter genre, the "Commedia Sexy all'Italiana"). He also discusses the Italian social conditions of the period that lead to hybrids of art film and genre pictures – particularly bourgeoisie-baiting ones that depicted excess and decadence – and the increasing difficulty of competing American product in the late seventies. The usual Mondo Macabro "About the Film" is less extensive than usual, but the Curti interview is pretty comprehensive when it comes to the film. There is no trailer for the film, but the disc does feature cast and crew profiles (better written and more informative than the usual ones we get on studio releases) and Mondo Macabro's promo reel. The combo is limited to 3,500 unnumbered copies. (Eric Cotenas)