FROM UNDER THE COVER

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A bit of a more personal post here and one that starts off with a huge thank you to the Italian director Giulio Ciancamerla for taking the time (and cost) to send me a full DVD-CD media book of his film UNDERCOVER MISTRESS which was only just released by X-Rated.

Now UNDERCOVER MISTRESS is a revenge film with a difference…it actually has something to say. Here credit also has to go to producer Lucio Massa and his Aborsky Produktion through which he has overseen five features and this short in under five years in which he has proven himself to never be one to shy away from the extreme, the controversial and the challenging.

Working together for the third time (Giulio Ciamcamerla was the assistant director on both HIPPOCAMPUS M21TH and VIOLENT SHIT: THE MOVIE from Aborsky Produktion) the director would act as a provocateur here and take a story based in the world on bondage and suffuse it with a tale of gender violence and identity.  Now I am not going to go and write a review (I did that here) but I am going to say that X-Rated have done justice to the film with this release which also features a very insightful set of interviews  with several members of cast and crew (in Italian with a choice of English or French subtitles), two additional old short films from the director, footage from the audio recording session and a CD of the music from across all three short films. Oh and a multi-lingual booklet detailing the influences and memories from the older short films.

Now I have waxed lyrical about how good this release looks (available from several independent European web stores and Amazon.it) but why is it a personal post?

Well that is because I had the very good fortune to review the film on my old website Cosi Perversa and a quote from my review made it onto this release! Now for the more seasoned writer or critic this may be a regular occurrence but this is a first for me…and to get a copy of the release is just the icing on the cake. Of course now I have changed sites, rather frustratingly I did this only a week before hearing from Giulio about the release, but I have ported the review across here.

So let’s raise a glass to the discussion about gender identity, revenge and how we perceive others. And then raise it again to Giulio, Lucio, Leonardo, Stefania and the rest of the cast and crew for making this film.

Grazie Giulio.

Cin cin.

UNDERCOVER MISTRESS (2016) BY GIULIO CIANCAMERLA

Reviews

Director: Giulio Ciancamerla
Writers: Giulio Ciancamerla, Lucio Massa
Year: 2016
Starring: Stefania Visconti, Leonardo Pace, Asia Liguori

This review first appeared on my older website Cosi Perversa.

Synopsis:
During a photo show, a man enjoys scaring a girl until she decides to leave the exhibition. The man runs after her along increasingly dark and isolated streets. A man and a woman? Which one is the dominant genre?

Review:
This short film opens in a contemporary art gallery with a handsome man catching a woman’s eye, if only for a second. Shy and retiring she is clearly too nervous to do anything but steal frequent glances. However she has also caught the eye of another, a sexual predator, who carries a look of disgust and lust over his face and the pursuit of only one action on his mind.

The performances of our two leads, Leonardo Pace and the Cinecittà graduate & transgender model Stefania Visconti, are terrific. Working without dialogue both are still able to convey the required complex emotions required allowing the viewer to innately understand their thought processes. The ability of both helps provide an added level of believability to the films set up.

Now with director Giulio Ciancamerla having established these, sadly prevalent, social norms he immediately sets about subverting the role of gender as a discordant soundtrack emphasises both the sadistic and non-conventional approach the film takes to tacking its subject matter. It is this ‘torture’ sequence that is vaguely reminiscent of the way a couple of giallo masters would frame their sexual transgressions as the activity builds up to a disturbing climax that undoubtedly will elicit a reaction from the viewer.

At the most simplest, base level this is an empowered and violent role reversal of the sexes but Ciancamerla imbues the film with much more complexity for those willing to delve further down the rabbit hole, beyond the preliminary visual layer as he strips away the social concept of gender roles and masculinity in particular as our male (Leonardo Pace) is emasculated rather than dominant.

What we are left with is the realisation that our identities are a performance piece, sometimes for the admiration of others and sometimes for our own gratification at the expense of others. To paraphrase British playwright Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage… and one man in his time plays many parts” and this is never truer in UNDERCOVER MISTRESS where our projected self may in fact be very different and our capabilities exceed that of even what we expect when pushed.

According to the press release the idea behind Undercover Mistress is a contamination of “gender studies” with “erotic…psychological horror” and as such tackles subjects such as sexual identity, harassment and roles. 

It is a challenging movie that no doubt will alienate many but for a few, it will raise societal questions and realisations as ugly as the violent acts it depicts. The fact that UNDERCOVER MISTRESS will appeal just as much to the arthouse liberal as the horror fan provides verification that the film has succeeded in its objectives perhaps even lending creedence to the subjects it tackles.

Visit the films Facebook page here.

Version Reviewed:
I watched an online screener of the 13-minute short film which was at the time was winning several awards on the festival circuit. The film is nicely shot with clean, modern visuals and clear sound.

SEXUAL LABYRINTH (2017) BY MORGANA MAYER

Reviews

Director: Morgana Mayer
Writers: Emma Davis, Lucio Massa, Alan Rainer, Marta Rot
Year: 2017
Starring: Marta Rot, Giada DaVinci, Fausto Moreno, Francesco Malcom, Mary Rider, Silvia Lamberti, Stefania Visconti

Synopsis:
A mysterious woman is in love with a girl who, after yet another rejection, is kidnapped and taken to a bizarre and secretive prison where she will undertake a surreal journey through the maze of pleasure.

Review:
The debut film from German director Morgana Mayer opens with some quality extreme metal (which will later be juxtaposed with classical music – seemingly the go-to genre to lend some sophistication to proceedings) and a dedication to Joe D’Amato (the film is peppered with references) and Luigi Zanuso, SEXUAL LABYRINTH sets its intentions out early in regards to both the content and the audience of this 68 minute bizarre erotic horror. Although a comparison to German director Andreas Bethmann wouldn’t be too far off either albeit with more emphasis on conceptual perversity and desire as opposed to the blunt, more direct approach of Bethmann.

Back to the movie and it really starts with a brief bit of exposition thereby setting the scene for our unfortunate lead female, who I have to say undertakes the most lax security in a public toilet cubicle I have ever witnessed and before you can even say ‘occupied’ she is grabbed, drugged and degraded.

Waking up she is told by a spurned, would-be lover, that she is about to go on an erotic journey, one which would end up not only with feelings of love between the two but also a sexual awakening in our kidnapped woman.  What follows is a series of sexual abuse…or exploration, depending on your point of view.

These experiences take place throughout several vignettes, not all including our unwilling slave, and cover areas such as the sharing of (not the usual) bodily fluids, fisting and much more with some of this activity having a brutal, violent effect and others perhaps possessing a metaphorical meaning.

However the latter was few and far between for me and while the aim might have been a strong critique of religion and contemporary society though post-porn art the reality is that several of these attempts came across as purely there to titivate or shock, particularly in reference to the nun scenes although to be fair these deliver visually what THE EXORCIST could only hint at.

As a result I feel there were several missed opportunities for philosophical musing or genuine commentary throughout the film where perhaps Mayer preferred to prioritise and depict perversity.  It must be noted however that I am approaching this film purely from my own experiences and cultural interpretation and therefore others may read more into the proceedings.

On the other hand one area that does his the mark is the cinematography. Perhaps I am doing the film a disservice here when I say that I was pleasantly surprised at how innovative some of the angles and shots were in this film, no doubt a bit more of the D’Amato influence coming across here and credit has to go to Rhea Silvia and Andrej Chinaski from Hot Chilli Productions for this.

It cannot be understated that if you are prudish or narrow minded in terms of sexuality, even just slightly then this film will not be for you and even if this criteria does not disqualify you there is still a high chance that SEXUAL LABYRINTH is not for you, just like BEYOND MADNESS this film is esoteric with an open mind not only being required of the viewer but demanded.

Nauseating, perverse and oddly compelling there is no denying that at times SEXUAL LABYRINTH is an uneasy watch, although I suspect it is meant to be but ultimately it is not as good at covering gender politics and identity as well as others, most notably UNDERCOVER MISTRESS by Giulio Ciancamerla but nonetheless it does explore a niche area of society and manages to capture, in an extreme form, the Annie Sprinkles book ‘Post Porn Modernist’ which is referenced in the final half of the film.

Is SEXUAL LABYRINTH the most extreme, abstract performance piece that discusses the notion of society, religion, true love and the total submission of oneself to another or purely an unadulterated, unabashed decadent piece of trash with a flimsy narrative holding it together. That I cannot answer for you and no doubt the answer will depend on your own interpretation of the film. If you wanted sadism as a metaphor for politics then check out Pasolini’s SALO but if you are happy to settle for sadism masquerading as political commentary then come on down!

What I will say however is that if D’Amato and Zanuso collaborated it is highly likely that post-porn surrealism like this would be the result.

Discover more about the film and yourself over on the official Facebook page.

On a side note I would like to add that although not everything from Black Lava Entertainment is my kind of thing they do put out decent releases with a relatively high standard and so for them to be associated with this film it should act as a seal of quality for fans of this genre.

Version Reviewed:
I watched an online screener of the film.