by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday May 17, 2016


With his 1974 film "Appassionata" director Gian Luigi Calderone anticipated Sam Mendes' 1999 hit film "American Beauty" by more than twenty years. He also did more, and delved deeper, than Mendes' film managed. In the words, this is more than "Italian Beauty," though a surface reading might lead one to think otherwise.

The story revolves around two teenaged girls. Eugenia (Ornella Muti) is a real daddy's girl, whose relationship with her father, Emilio (Gabriele Ferzetti), treads a little too close to sexual impropriety. Emilio is jealous of his daughter -- he flies into a rage that goes well beyond paternal protectiveness when he hears Eugenia describing a fictitious sexual encounter to a friend -- but he has the sense to corral and lock away the lust she inspires in him. Eugenia, on the other hand, seems more than willing to go farther, assuming she ever gets the chance.

Perhaps as a substitute for Eugenia, Emilio fixates on Nicola (Eleonora Giorgi), his daughter's beautiful and slightly too-mature friend. Nicola's father is a diplomat who leaves her in care of a neglectful aunt for long stretches of time; Nicola ends up at Eugenia's house much of the team, as if by default. When Nicola comes to Emilio's dental practice claiming a painful wisdom tooth, Emilio is happy to lend his professional help; but when a shot of Novocaine seems to put Nicola into a sexually provocative trance, things rapidly spin out of control. Thus is Emilio's obsession born.

We'd call it a midlife crisis in contemporary America, but there are other factors at work, including Euglena's mother Elisa (Valentina Cortese), once a concert pianist and now more or less a mental patient confined to (and looked after by a maid in) her own home. Elisa seeks all the things other mothers seek -- to create a pleasant environment, to look after the well-being of her child -- but she's lost all competence about how to do such things. While Eugenia treats her mother poorly, Nicola befriends the older woman, and is sincerely sweet to her even while she pursues an affair with Emilio.

If unhappy families are unhappy in their own unique ways, at least this one knows how to do it in style -- even if the fruits of their unhappiness are wild, thorny, and bittersweet.

Twilight Times' Blu-ray edition of "Appassionata" (and this seems to be the only Blu-ray edition of this film available) offers nothing but an isolated score track and an essay by Julie Kirgo. Personally, I could take or leave Piero Piccioni's music, but Kirgo's essays -- staple of the Twilight Time brand -- sells me every time.

Extras (or lack of them) aside, what matters here is the movie, and while "Appassionata" does suffer (as so any Italian moves do) from a certain jumpy style of editing (and a few oddball spots where whoever did the subtitles evidently didn't know how to translate the dialogue, substituting "???" in place of words), it has flesh and juice aplenty.




Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.