Friday, April 16, 2010

The Key (1983)

Directed by Tinto Brass
Starring Stefania Sandrelli, Frank Finlay, Franco Branciaroli
Rated R

"When did you ever give me this flesh that sets my prick on fire?"

As much a man out of time as ever, In The Key, fabled Italian director Tinto Brass takes us back to pre-war Italy. 1939, to be exact. Based on the 1956 Japanese novel "Kagi", the story revolves around the sexual foibles of Nino (Finley), an aging professor. Not sure what he's actually a professor of, since all he seems to do with hs non penis-related time is authenticate forged paintings, but I'm sure he's an expert in something. What he's not so good at is satisfying his hot young wife Theresa (Sandrelli), who he lasts all of 30 seconds with, every time he screws her. He decides that what his wife needs to do is take a lover on the side, but being a discreet man, he devices a needlessly complex plan to jot down his intimate thoughts on the subject in a diary, and then place the diary lock's key somewhere conspicuous, so that Theresa can find it, and hopefully get his drift. She does.

Theresa ends up having in an affair with her son in law, Lazlo, and much to his bemused surprise, Nino finds that he actually gets off on the resultant jealousy he feels. Next thing you know, his formerly frigid wife is cavorting around in skimpy (for the era, anyway) lingerie, he's taking naughty pictures of her in her sleep, and she's goading him into cross-dressing. Their carefully planned infidelity causes a sexual awakening in both of them, but to what end? Has Nino been successful in his bizarre little plan, or has he ultimately- pun intended- fucked himself?

Hard to say, really. Although this film is not exactly subtle, it is Italian, and their rules of engagement seem much different than the rest of the world's, since everyone seems completely preoccupied with fucking, all the time. However, as muddy as the plot might get, it matters not, because Sandrelli is a jaw-dropping beauty, and she's got her knickers around her ankles for most of the film. Brass is a master of composition when it comes to shooting the female form, and some of these scenes- the impromptu beach photo shoot, in particular- deserve to be snatched off of the screen and hung on a wall, like some flawless work of erotic high art.

Luckily for us, a photo gallery is included in the DVD's bonus material, perfect for long, lingering gazes without trying to figure out why they didn't take the garter belt and stockings off of the suddenly ill-stricken Nino before the doctor showed up, or why Theresa starts her own diary, when her husband already knows exactly what she's up to. Tinto himself may actually explain exactly what's going on in the 17 minute interview included here, but his accent is so thick that it's not much help.

Even so, The Key is often regarded as an erotic masterpiece, and I'm inclined to agree. While it's not as refreshingly light-hearted as Brass's Miranda, and certainly not the circus of outrage that Caligula was, it's probably the sexiest film he's made, and that's saying a lot.

Erudite types will certainly enjoy The Key as a clever expose on sexual mores, and the rest of us will just watch it with our pants down. So, you know, everybody wins.  

- Ken McIntyre

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