THE VOYEUR (1994) Blu-ray
Director: Tinto Brass
Cult Epics

Tinto Brass' softcore erotica vaunts ahead into near hardcore explicitness in his most mainstream feature THE VOYEUR, on Blu-ray from Cult Epics.

Eduardo (Francesco Casale, ARABELLA: THE BLACK ANGEL), "Dodo" to his friends and family", a French literature professor with an interest in scopophilia (pleasure derived from looking) in literature, is at a loss as to why his wife Silvia (Playboy model Katarina Vasilissa) has decided they need some time apart and moved in with his aunt. Although he suspects that she has another man, Silvia remains vague about the things she has to think over before returning to him. He suspects that Silvia disliked them living with his bedridden father Alberto (Brass regular Franco Branciaroli, ALL LADIES DO IT) in his childhood apartment, but Silvia suggests that it is Dodo who dislikes his own father. Alberto's caregiver Fausta (Cristina Garavaglia, KREOLA) – who roams the apartment in transparent blouses and cut-off shorts that leave nothing to the imagination – has caught on to Eduardo's voyeuristic fetish, telling and showing him about his father's inappropriate behavior when she gives him injections not as a complaint but to arouse him. Pascasie (Raffaella Offidani, CASTLE FREAK), a Congolese student and model, also catches on to his fetish and takes him home to her apartment for a tryst, but he ends up watching her and her jealous lesbian lover reenact Stéphane Mallarmé poem “Négresse”. Silvia eventually relents and admits that she has another man but refuses to tell Dodo his identity, understanding that he needs details to visualize it in his mind. When Fausta reveals that among the many women who visit to ravish the – including the neighboring Contessa (Martine Brochard, PAPRIKA) – is a young woman who possesses one of the four sets of keys to the apartment, Dodo begins to suspect that it is his father who has been cuckolding him with his wife (inspiring Oedipal flashbacks of his childhood and fantasies of Silvia's faithlessness).

Although THE VOYEUR was Tinto Brass' first direct adaptation of a novel by Alberto Moravia – who is best known stateside for providing the source novels for Jean-Luc Godard's CONTEMPT and Bernardo Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST – the two artists shared some common obsessions with the arousing possibilities of a partner's infidelity, particularly in Moravia's more erotic novels and short stories (which inspired a short cycle of eighties and nineties softcore adaptations including Aldo Lado's LA DISUBBIDIENZA, Giovanni Soldati's THE LIE, Giuliana Gamba's THE BELT, Mauro Bolognini's HUSBANDS AND LOVERS, and Cédric Kahn's L'ENNUI). Although he is best known in the states for helming the Nazisploitation epic SALON KITTY and Penthouse's multi-million dollar failure CALIGULA (heavily compromised by the input of Bob Guccione), Brass was a filmmaker as influenced by Roberto Rossellini as the French New Wave with sex and nudity as elements of provocation in his earlier works. After the failure of CALIGULA, he returned to low-budget filmmaking with the arty ACTION but his 1983 adaptation of Junichiro Tanizaki's THE KEY determined the direction of his subsequent career as an auteur of explicit but classy erotica. The adaptation possesses some psychological complexity, but it does not prevent Brass from reveling in his appreciation of the female form, initiating a turn towards Playboy/Penthouse video levels of explicitude that would inform his subsequent works. Highlights include Silvia masturbating under the table at a restaurant (during which Dodo compares her clitoris to the hackles of a cat and the crest of a rooster), Pascasie revealing her cliterectomy to Dodo in close-up, Fausta masturbating with a cigar while reading Moravia's novel THE VOYEUR (which Alberto subsequently smokes in a bit prescient of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal), the use of reverse photography to depict a fantasizing Dodo getting an erection onscreen in close-up, and Dodo's visit to a nude beach – overseen by a "porking attendant" (dubbing voice actor Ted Russoff) – where he fantasizes Silvia in place of every naked woman engaged in sexual encounters. As usual, the production and costume design are striking (merging Venetian exteriors and Cinecittà interiors), as is the photography of Massimo de Venanzo – son of Fellini cinematographer Gianni de Venanzo (JULIET OF THE SPIRITS) – who took over as Brass' regular cinematographer for a time following the death of Silvano Ippoliti (de Venanzo would take over for Ippoliti on ALL LADIES DO IT). Riz Ortolani (MONDO CANE) contributes a stirring sax-heavy score which also excerpts his main theme for Brass' PAPRIKA. Brass regular Antonio Salines (SENSO '45) appears as a gay physiologist and Brass himself makes three cameos in the film as a licentious professor, in a TV clip from TRA(SGRE)DIRE, and in a mural beneath the closing credits (a scene from THE KEY with Frank Finlay and Stefania Sandrelli is also seen when Dodo and Silvia meet at the cinema).

Like much of Brass' films, THE VOYEUR went unreleased in the United States theatrically or on video. It first became available to English-speaking viewers via Nouveaux Pictures' Region 2 PAL DVD in 2000 which featured a non-anamorphic, barely letterboxed transfer of the shortened English version (90 minutes at PAL speed vs the 98 minute PAL and 103 minute 24fps timings for the director's cut) shorn of the more explicit close-ups of female and male genitalia. Cult Epics released the film on DVD in 2008 in separate anamorphic widescreen "Producer's Cut" (the shorter English version) and "Director's Cut" (the uncut Italian version with English subtitles) editions. In 2010, Cult Epics issued a special edition of the uncut Italian version with the option of an English dub track (the opposite of what they did with FRIVOLOUS LOLA where they first released a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer of the uncut version with English and Italian audio tracks and then reissued separate anamorphic shorter English and longer Italian-language director's cuts). The PAL-converted DVD was misframed at 1.78:1, although this was not at all uncommon with other 1.66:1 titles supplied to distributors by rights owner Filmexport.

Cult Epic's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen Blu-ray is similarly misframed, looking cropped along the top and slightly stretched (zooming the TV into 4:3 makes people in long and medium shots look elongated yet close-ups look more pleasing with the squeeze). Wear is evident at the reel changes and it looks like Filmexport made no effort to clean it up. The HD image reveals some finer textures in the costumes and art direction, close-ups of genitalia as well as the downy hairs on Vasilissa's arms. Detail is not as crisp in this older master, but some of it is also lost to the original cinematography which stages flashbacks and fantasies with intentional overexposure while scenes set in the morning or at dusk make use of natural light and diffusing smoke. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo Italian and English tracks are cleaner, with most of the stereo separation comes from Ortolani's score. Fortunately, the optional English subtitles are a translation of the Italian dialogue rather than dubtitles.

The 2007 interview with Brass (23:51) is carried over from the DVD releases. He recalls reading the novel while filming MIRANDA in 1985 and telling producer Giovanni Bertolucci (cousin of Bernardo) to option the book. Moravia was reportedly pleased that Brass would be doing the film and did not expect "mechanical fidelity" from the adaptation, but the project was delayed since Brass had obligations to do other films. Moravia died in 1990 and the option ran out shortly after, and his surviving widow Carmen Llera (his first wife, writer Elsa Morante, died in 1985) refused to renew the option because of her concerns about how Brass would adapt the work. The film's producers brokered a deal in which Brass could make the film and Llera would screen it and decide whether or not Moravia's name would appear in the credits and promotional materials (it didn't). The disc also includes trailers for MONAMOUR, KICK THE COCK, CHEEKY, PRIVATE, and BLACK ANGEL as well a photo gallery (1:58). (Eric Cotenas)