Color, 1986, 114m. / Directed by Marco Bellocchio / Starring Maruschka Detmers, Federico Pitzalis, Anita Laurenzi, Riccardo De Torrebruna, Alberto di Stazio / NoShame (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

The last significant erotic film to emerge from Europe until the resurgence of post-Romance art-porn, this politically charged look at sexuality and madness earned most of its press and box office dollars thanks to a unique gimmick... namely having the respected lead actress, Maruschka Detmers (First Name: Carmen), engage in oral sex on-camera with her male co-star. Already a respected director since the mid-1960s with films like Fist in His Pocket and an impressive adaptation of Henry IV, Bellocchio doesn't really present the scene as exploitive or gratuitous; in fact, it's an admirable precursor of the union between high-class art film and hardcore antics which wouldn't enter the mainstream (outside of America, anyway) for nearly two decades.

Loosely adapted from the scandalous and oft-filmed Raymond Radiguet novel, the story chronicles the efforts of young student Andrea (Pitzalis) to woo the beautiful Giulia (Detmers), whom he first spies outside the window of his classroom and then in a courthouse. Her boyfriend, political activist and accused terrorist Giacomo (De Torrebruna), awaits trial for his activities with the radical Red Brigade, leaving her an emotional and sexually frustrated wreck. As it turns out, Andrea's father (di Stazio) was her therapist and disapproves of his association with her, while Giacomo's mother (Laurenzi), suspects Giulia might be a lying tramp who won't do her son any good once he's out of prison. Nevertheless a passionate affair ignites between Andrea and Giulia, though destiny has a few surprises left in store for both of them.

Certainly attention-getting and effectively sultry, Devil in the Flesh is a marked departure from the randy, antagonist nature of Bellocchio's earlier films but certainly doesn't pull its punches in terms of content. The narrative concerning Giacomo is more than a little muddled, but in a post-9/11 climate, it's bound to cause more than a bit of discomfort with Western viewers. In any case, most audiences will be a lot more interested in the central Andrea/Giulia story, which is carried completely by Detmers' sheer magnetism and carnal energy. Simply put, she's the sexiest madwoman you'll ever see, at least outside of Betty Blue. Without her, the film would simply dissolve into a puddle on the floor.

Picked up for theatrical distribution by Orion who proudly displayed its X rating, Devil in the Flesh suffered on home video from two problems. First, many renters were stuck with an alternate, edited R-rated version, which removed the most famous scene; however, the "uncut" X-rated version kept the fellatio intact but darkened it to such an extreme that the viewer had to take it on faith that something graphic was going on. (The laserdisc suffered from the same visual tampering.) However, along with looking colorful, clear, and crisp, NoShame's disc also finally restores the scene to its original well-lit glory for posterity. The Italian audio (with optional English subtitles) sounds perfectly clear and much more robust than the old Orion transfer.

As for extras, the real attraction is a new, lengthy intreview with Marco Bellocchio in which he discusses the making of the film in great detail while putting it in context with the rest of his career. Also included is "Stolen Years, Hidden Lives," a pair of interviews with former real-life Red Brigade members Adriana Faranda and Mara Nanni. Other extras include the original Italian trailer (which, not surprisingly, tries to push the film as a sexy potboiler), a poster and still gallery, and a booklet containing solid liner notes by Richard Harland Smith, an overview of Italian uprisings in the '60s and '70s by Allessandro Marenga, a Bellocchio bio and filmography by Giona A. Nazzaro, and a three-question Bellocchio interview from the original American press book.

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