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“A pleasure that is so great it can be painful.” Massimo Dallamano's Venus In Furs (aka Devil in the Flesh), not to be confused with Jess Franco's Venus In Furs (also 1969, aka Paroxismus), is based on the 1870 novella of the same name by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. It was released in the dying days of the swinging sixties – in Denmark and West Germany, at least – but it wasn't distributed in Dallamano's native Italy until 1973, at which point it was quickly confiscated and cut to ribbons, such was the perceived danger of it's carnal sights. The age of the Internet may have dulled some of the film's softer titillations, but even 45 years later its darker passages of voyeurism, submission, and sadomasochism can still inspire shock, even repulsion.
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“A woman in furs is somehow more excitingly erotic than otherwise dressed or undressed.” Severin (Régis Vallée) is a rich man with a keen interest in books who is enjoying a relaxing lakeside holiday when, suddenly, his attention is pulled away by the arrival of a beautiful photographer's model. Wanda (Laura Antonelli) has all eyes on her, and at the suggestion of resort manager Helga, Severin watches her shower (and other things) through peep holes behind a picture.
“What was it Freud said? That man is the sum total of the traumas of his childhood.” It is revealed, partly in flashback and partly by voice over, that Severin's loss of innocence came when, as a child, he watched the family maid and chauffeur indulge themselves in bed. It was an act of voyeurism that earned him a harsh slap from the buxom maid, and then a comforting embrace.
“That slap, those tears, how sweet. They seem to have conditioned my whole life.” So the seeds of Severin's sexuality were sewn, and in Wanda he seems to have found the perfect woman. He's upfront and she has a voracious carnal appetite, and soon they're bound in their own steamy tryst and flaunting their lust to the buttoned-up tourists also visiting the resort.
“You're strange, with you a woman feels drawn to corruption, towards cruelty, towards going beyond all limits.” However, their passion begins to boil when Wanda – a former strip tease artist – accidentally whips Severin across the face, only to inspire his libido. She reveals that she knew all along that she was being watched by him, and that she's open to sexual experimentation, which begins with seducing other lovers before moving on to deeper depths. As the days pass by they both walk hand-in-hand towards a storm of hot flesh and sordid adventures.
“Women are always forbidden the most amusing things.” Their love – or their lust – pushes them towards marriage and, on an extended honeymoon in a beautiful renaissance villa, a role playing game of Severin's own devising. He will be 'Greggor', the chauffeur, and she will be the free-loving Madame, and for a while at least they seem like the perfect match. However, as their illicit games begin to lose control, she seeks ways to make him jealous and he begins to feel a sense of possession overtaking him.
“I want no limits to your cruelty.” Seeking an impossible love with the 'tiger' inside Wanda – his dominant Queen – the threat of achieving their desires lead them both towards unhappiness. The longer they play these games, the deeper they find themselves diving, until all that's left is an insidious sexual tyranny.
“Perhaps I should be shocked.” Massimo (WhatHave You Done To Solange?) Dallamano's film, scripted by Fabio Massimo, is a sultry beast that teases at first, with sensations and imagination – fingers gently tracing skin, obscured views, exposed legs, and the love of fur. Representing power and femininity, desire and animality – even royalty – it becomes the touchpaper to a torrid tale of romance, corruption, and explosive passions. Shifting from voyeurism to sensuality, from love to pain and suffering, Sergio (Cannibal Holocaust) D'Offizi's cinematography paints these pictures in a light that is all-at-once alluring and dangerous.
“I've always wanted to meet a romantic man, just for a change.” Made privy to their secret inner thoughts, the viewer is invited into their world where inhibitions are meant to be stripped away as often as their clothes. It's a strange world, but one that is played out with conviction, tempting the viewer to follow for as long as they dare. Boasting some extraordinary visual flourishes – such as a brutal first person beat-down, and a fevered revenge fantasy that bleeds into reality – Venus In Furs is a masterful examination of how a twisted sexuality can liberate but just as easily inspire savagery and condemnation.
“She'll beat you into ecstasy!” Venus In Furs is reviewed as part of the Shameless Screen Entertainment 'Pop Erotica Fest' box set, which also features Baba Yaga, and The Frightened Woman. The film (the 'extended English version') is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and is accompanied by a series of trailers. The audio is nice and clear, and the print is good, although wide shots do tend to betray a softness that isn't found in the gloriously crisp close ups. Typically for Shameless, the box art for their third DVD collection (compiled in 2012) is impressive, with a nostalgic reversible sleeve which resembles a Video 2000 cassette.