Laura Gemser and Annie Belle star in Joe D'Amato's storyline based erotica. Severin Films USA R0 DVD.
In the mid-1930s an Italian soldier Elio De Silveris (Al Cliver) returns home from the Abyssinian conflict bringing a number of presents for his new wife Alessandra and his secretary Wilma (Annie Belle), but the most impressive gift is one for himself - Zerbal (Laura Gemser) an African princess given to him by her father as a thanks for saving his life. Initially the women greet Zerbal with dislike, calling her a smelly savage, but as she starts to learn Italian she is able to make her presence in the household felt.
One of the more original storyline to emerge from the stream of erotica, both soft and hardcore that flooded European cinema in the late 1970s and early '80s, L'Alcova's script is also one of the select few that manages to find a balance between storyline and sex. The plot is quite economical, limiting the action to really just a single location and five speaking parts, but it manages to convey a complex web of love and attraction and the power struggles in the character's relationships. At the same time it incorporates numerous sex scenes, both straight and sapphic, which are given enough screentime to make them worthwhile.
The setting in Italy in the mid-1930s amongst the rise of Fascism is emphasised frequently in the dialogue, in particular the virulent racism expressed by the characters towards Zerbal at the start of the film. However the script never really has anything to 'say' on the topic - while certainly never condoning the racism or Fascism, it equally never condemns them or even really uses them for shock value, it just seems to use them to add some unusual background to the film. A lot of the European softcore films from the period descended into surrealism, more often than not a cover for lazy writing - L'Alcova maintains a solid narrative throughout with good pacing, building to a neatly effective ending. Equally it eschews the trend towards increasing sleaze and hardcore sex with a firmly softcore approach to the nude scenes, making it more remiscent of the early 1980s softcore cable films than what most Italian film-makers were producing at the time.
Behind the lens, Joe D'Amato does a good job and as well as bringing his experienced hand to the sex scenes he treats the drama with respect too making sure that the scenes are not mere padding. The period setting limits the film somewhat and obviously the budget would not stretch to any real location shooting but the house set looks very good and is large and varied enough to avoid becoming repetitive. The only slight disappointment is a missed opportunity - during the film one of the characters is shooting a silent movie but we never get to see the footage being filmed - D'Amato used a technique like this in Emanuelle in America (1977) with replicated 'snuff movie' footage and it might have been a neat touch here. The soundtrack, credited to art-house regular Manuel De Sica, is subtle but provides a good backing.
Euro-cult regular Al Cliver (Zombi 2 (1979)) looks suitably distinguished in the lead role and although often quite wooden in his other film roles, he performs well enough here. He is joined by his one-time partner Annie Belle who is all but unrecognisable at first, with long dark hair in place of her trademark cropped white cut. As a result she actually looks considerably younger and achingly beautiful - her scenes with the naval cadet are certainly the most erotic in the film even though they have the least flesh on display - oddly Belle stays covered up for most of the film and despite some brief shots between her legs, she never appears topless.
In contrast, Indonesian beauty Laura Gemser has aged somewhat since the Black Emanuelle films, but this seems appropriate for someone who has been through what she has - she plays the 'primitive' woman part well, changing into the manipulative creature as the story develops. Actress Lilli Carati (Avere vent'anni (1978)) plays the frequently naked wife very well and has good chemistry, while veteran Spaghetti Western actor Nello Pazzafini (Faccia a faccia (1967)) crops up in an all but non-speaking role as the gardener.
Some good ideas and an effective balance of storyline and eroticism are well served by Joe D'Amato's intellegent direction and a production that never tries to overstretch itself. The cast work well together with some effective chemistry - an enjoyable little gem and recommended to fans of the cast or director and to fans of the classier softcore erotica in general.
|Anyone famous in it?||Laura Gemser - the attractive Indonesian star best known for her roles in the Black Emanuelle series.
Annie Belle - French actress, also appeared with Gemser in Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle (1978)
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Joe D'Amato - an Italian exploitation master, best known for his exploitation films including the notorious Porno holocaust (1981) and Antropophagus (1980) he later moved into hardcore pornography.|
|Any gore or violence?||None.|
|Any sex or nudity?||Various soft female nude and sex scenes.|
|Who is it for?||One for fans of classic softcore erotica and of the cast.
|Visuals||Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print has good colours and strong detail - often very grainy.
|Audio||English mono - sounds good throughout.|
|Extras||The disc includes:
|Region||Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC|
|Other regions?||Available from X-Rated Kult in Germany, 1.66:1 non-anamorphic with forced German subtitles on the English track.|
|Cuts?||Believed to be fully uncut. The print used has English language credits.