Husbands and Lovers

Husbands and Lovers (Mauro Bolognini, 1992)

aka Villa del Venerdi

Author Stefan (Julian Sands) and his wife Alina (Joanna Pacula) have an open arrangement regarding extramarital affairs. Problems arise with this arrangement when they arrive in Italy for Stefan to work on a film project and Alina reconnects with an old lover Paolo (Tcheky Karyo), who wants to see her exclusively on the weekends. During these weekends Stefan is distracted but resists labelling it jealousy but becomes disturbed when Alina describes the sadomasochistic bent her relationship with Paolo is taking. He seeks emotional comfort from the couples’ friend Louisa (Lara Wendel) but his jealousy begins to show as Paolo becomes more violent and it turns out this couple isn’t as jaded as they had first thought.

I’m not that familiar with Mauro Bolognini’s output but the script for HUSBANDS AND LOVERS bears all the hallmarks of author Alberto Moravia’s other works (VILLA DEL VENERDI is in print but was never translated into English) such as A GHOST AT NOON (filmed by Godard as CONTEMPT) and CONJUGAL LOVE (about an author who abstains from sex with his wife because he thinks his creativity is being sapped by their sex life only to become suspicious of his wife and his barber). We have an intellectual author who spends more time puzzling and analyzing the behaviour of his emotional wife than actually talking to her about it, rather talking at her instead. In one key scene, after hearing about Alina and Paolo’s latest weekend together (“I felt like he wanted to rip my sex out of me!”), Stefan defines sadomasochism to Alina who counters that Stefan’s problem is that he always wants to intellectualise everything, to label and sum up what she feels are complex emotions (another Moravia trait that can be summed up in his short story ‘The Fetish’ in which a man ridicules his wife’s response to a featureless piece of modern art she has purchased). We have an artistic milieu; the film Stefan is working on, an interpretive dance performance where Alina and Paolo lock eyes under Stefan’s nose.

Co-produced by P.A.C. (Mario Bava’s FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON) and Galliano Juso’s MetroFilm, the film shares crew and locations from other productions by both companies around the same time. The spacious apartment with its indoor pool that Alina and Stefan rent while working on the film is the same as Pacula’s city residence in Lamberto Bava’s BODY PUZZLE (produced by PAC and co-written by this film’s production manager Teodoro Agrimi) and editor Sergio Montanari edited Ruggero Deodato’s enjoyably loopy DIAL: HELP (produced by Galliano Juso who went on to produce THE BELT adapted from a Moravia short story and directed by Giuliano Gamba whose earlier film BIZARRE/PROFUMO he also produced which was designed by this film’s art director Claudio Cinini and edited by Montanari).

Like the other P.A.C. productions of the time BODY PUZZLE and CIRCLE OF FEAR (both shot by Luigi Kuveiller), the cinematography is slick but rather ordinary (VILLA DEL VENERDI was shot by the great Giuseppe Lanci but does not look like the work of the man who shot Tarkovsky’s beautiful and moving NOSTALGHIA). Paolo’s Romanesque villa on the beach also cropped up in Ivanna Massetti’s shallow but visually and aurally pleasing feminist film DOMINO, which was mismarketed in the states as an erotic thriller. Sands is rather enervating as the protagonist but Pacula–who I first noticed as the one saving grace of the otherwise dire horror film THE KISS–isn’t given much motivation–other than the revelation that she can’t have children so she must have something else to do with her time apparently–but she can get away with her exquisite looks and that slight tremor in her sexy accent. Both leads go through the film garbed in Armani (I’ll write crap films about underage prostitutes if I get to wear Armani and live in palatial apartments) including Pacula’s striking red cocktail dress that she wears as she leaves and returns from her weekends.

I’ve always liked Karyo in any language, and he adds a touch of class to anything (including an episode of the flashy but generally boring ‘Red Shoe Diaries’; a series that my friends and I watched back in our high school days thinking it naughty and sophisticated). Karyo isn’t given much motivation either. He’s just a playboy concert pianist who likes to have Pacula leaning against his piano during gatherings at his villa, and  who indulges in kink for the service of the plot. Ennio Morricone phones in a score combining orchestra and synthesizer of which only the main title theme is particularly memorable (the rest sounds like the kind of filler Pino Donaggio was inserting in between the memorable main themes of his eighties work) and one of those uncredited–at least in the English version–songs at a dance club (where we get to see Pacula thrashing around on the dance floor) that would’ve been nice to have turn up on the soundtrack release.

In the US, the film was distributed by actor-turned-producer Mark Damon’s Vision International (through which he produced Zalman King’s fun but hilariously trashy WILD ORCHID) and distributed on tape and laserdisc (like most other Vision productions and acquisitions) by Columbia Tri-Star in both R-rated and Unrated editions. I have no idea which version I saw (both Pacula and Sands show everything but I didn’t notice any of the thrusting motions that the MPAA is so afraid of American viewers seeing, though they may have objected to the rather bland portrayal of sadomasochism. The US tapes and disc were fullscreen and in stereo with closed captioning that even captioned some of the lyrics of the dance club song. As with the PAC productions BODY PUZZLE and CIRCLE OF FEAR, VILLA DEL VENERDI has been released twice on DVD in Italy, once in non-anamorphic widescreen by Medusa and then as an anamorphic widescreen release by Mondo Home Entertainment (with 2.0 and 5.1 audio). I have not seen either but specs suggest its an Italian only release. There was reportedly a fullscreen Russian DVD with English and Russian audio options but I have not come across a copy and the film never made it to US DVD.

Although MGM released DVDs of the some Vision productions such WILD ORCHID, they likely do not have the rights to many of Vision’s foreign acquisitions (they released DVDs of CURSE 2: THE BITE and TROLL 2 but BEYOND THE DOOR III was released on DVD by Media Blasters). Not sure if it merits a fandubbing but I’d be up to the task if someone could provide a DVDR of the English version.

(Eric Cotenas)