Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Malabimba (1979)

The Karoly are an Italian noble family slowly slipping into poverty. They might still be living in a castle, but it's quite obviously falling into disrepair. The only financially fluent member of the family is Adolfo (Giuseppe Marrocco), and Adolfo is paralyzed and can't speak, and is - to the rest of the family's desperation - married to Nais (Patrizia Webley), who is usually called by names like "whore". Nais is in fact, and understandably, cheating on her husband with her lawyer (for some reason also living in the castle) with whom she has quite an interesting sado-masochistic relationship going on.

Be that as it may, the family matriarch (Pupita Lea) still wants her other son, Andrea (Enzo Fisichella) to marry Nais, so that the family can get their hands on Adolfo's money to help keep their decadent lifestyle up. Andrea isn't too happy with the idea. Firstly, he's a bit disturbed to think of things like this while his brother is still alive, and secondly, he is still not over the death of his wife some years ago. Nais herself wouldn't mind the arrangement and does her best (regularly appearing in Andrea's bedroom in the nude) to help Andrea along.

It's quite fortunate that the family has their own nun-in-training, Sofia (Mariangela Giordano) to care for Adolfo, or the poor man would die of hunger between all these people distracted by sexual innuendo.

At least Andrea has his daughter Bimba (Katell Laennec) to brighten his days, a charming, sixteen year old innocent. Innocent, that is, until the family has a séance, and the nasty spirit of one of the family ancestors takes her over. Lukrezia, as the ghost is called, seems to be quite a typical member of her family, as she is mostly interested in sex, cursing, and sex, and won't stop at minor things like trying to seduce her host's father.

People will probably look at me strange when I say this, but I think that Andrea Bianchi's Malabimba is a) the director's best film, b) the most watchable Italian rip-off of The Exorcist, and c) as good as hardcore porn horror films get.

The a) is obviously an easy accomplishment when you look at the rest of the director's filmography, (and the b also not too surprising when you have seen the other Italian Exorcists), but I think Bianchi does a truly swell job here of grounding the pornography in the psychology of his characters and vice versa.

Malabimba lives on its over-heated, utterly sexualized ambiance, where really nothing anyone does has no connection to a sexual hang-up. Even without a possessed teenager, the film is filled with characters completely driven by a sexuality that is (in the tradition of each and every film about the decaying rich, just more explicitly) barely held in control by weird ideas of propriety. So far, so porn, but what's most interesting is how much care (and that's not something one expects to say about anything Bianchi has done) has been put into providing an amount of logical motivation for the characters' sex-obsession. There really is no need for Bianchi or his scriptwriter Piero Regnoli to give reasons for anyone dropping their clothes at all, yet still they do, and thereby manage to make their film much more interesting (and possibly much more erotic) than they needed to. This does not mean that the characters act like you expect regular people to act, but as representations of people fallen prey to their urges they work quite brilliantly.

It also helps that Malabimba's actors are all quite good, properly overacting as it fits their characters.

The main reason for the film's existence is of course not to comment on the lifestyle of the idle not-rich-anymore, but to throw as much sleazy sex on screen as possible. Here, too, Bianchi excels (as he does - surprisingly - at providing moody set-ups). There's a palpable enthusiasm at breaking every taboo possible oozing from the screen, and it is surprising what a film can pack into 90 minutes when it is trying to. Really, there should be something in the film to offend (or delight) anyone. The film features the rampant sexualisation of a teenager, teddy bear masturbation (which I think is also a nice metaphor for sexual awakening, but what do I know), incest, the seduction of a nun, sado-masochism, sexual abuse of the handicapped - fun times. Basically everything apart from necrophilia and goat sex is somewhere in here; to find the latter two elements in a decent film, you'll probably have to look at Japanese cinema.

If the thought of all these things fills you with moral disgust or ethical panic, you'd probably best avoid Malabimba, but if you're like me and can appreciate a serving of sleaze, this comes highly recommended.


No comments: