Radley Metzger's most acclaimed film is a melancholy tale of a woman wandering through the landscape of her memory to relive the joys and sorrows of the first love of her adolescence. We flash back on the young Therese (Essy Persson), who has grown up as the only person in her single mother's life, but due to her mother's abrupt marriage she has now been banished from the family home to a finishing school. Feeling abandoned, Therese becomes friends with the vivacious and lively Isabelle (Anna Gaël), but their relationship grows past friendship to love, and together they taste the forbidden fruit of sex. Based on the autobiographical novel Le Batarde by Violette Leduc, Metzger's handsome black-and-white film (elegantly shot by Hans Jura) is constructed as a prismatic set of flashbacks, constructed not in chronological order but rather along thematic lines, intercut with the adult Therese revisiting the ghosts of her past in the now-deserted school. The tasteful restraint of the first half gives way to discreet sexual explorations and finally nudity, which may be troubling to some viewers in light of the age of the characters (who are played by adults), but Metzger never exploits the situation. The poignant scenes have a tenderness and raw emotion that captures the mix of excitement, fear, and confusion of adolescence, and ultimately the film becomes about the tragedy of loss that continues to haunt the adult Therese.
Radley Metzger's erotic take on Alexandre Dumas fils' tragedy The Lady of the Camellias is a hedonistic journey into decadence among the chic world of upper-crust Rome. Marguerite (Danièle Gaubert) lives off the gifts and good graces of an elderly sugar-daddy count, treating love as a game and sex as a pastime (she is "discriminating but not particular," in the words of one rival). Sweet-faced innocent Armand (Nino Castelnuovo), a young bachelor newly arrived in Rome, courts the comely beauty and wins her heart, and together they live a fairy-tale romance--until his father intervenes and Marguerite (already conveniently dying of one of those afflictions that strikes gorgeous young women who flirt out of their class) selflessly leaves Armand to his greater fate and sinks into a haze of drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous abandonment. Metzger's romantic tragedy is a fleshy delight--the camera lovingly caresses every voluptuous curve of Gaubert's face and body--with a surprisingly restrained display of nudity. Lushly photographing in seductive color in the elegant mansions of Rome, Metzger cranks up the kink in one scene, a party set in a prison turned pleasure house where dates are chained together and couples retire to a cell for privacy, but balances the erotic decadence with tasteful restraint. The art direction and cinematography are so rich that, apart from the magnetic Miss Gaubert, the characters are constantly in danger of being overwhelmed by their surroundings. But little matter--if the tragedy is less than devastating, the realization is delightfully tactile and alive.
The Alley Cats
The success of Radley Metzger's smooth, stylish erotic bonbon The Dirty Girls inspired him to try something a little more ambitious. The Alley Cats is the simple story of Leslie (petite, big-eyed brunette Anna Arthur), a frustrated young woman in the European jet set ignored by her fiancé, Logan. When she discovers he's in the middle of an affair with her best friend, Leslie decides to have a few dalliances of her own. To her surprise, she falls for a beautiful, seductive socialite and is suddenly confronted with a choice she never expected to face. Daring in its time, it feels rather dated today, as the decadent display of sexual freedom collapses in a conclusion grounded in conventional attitudes. But until then it's a lusty yet sleek look at swinging '60s Europe shot on gorgeous locations and in chic, elegantly furnished apartments in cool, crisp black-and-white widescreen, enlivened by a funky rock and jazz-influenced score. --Sean Axmaker