• The Libertine (Nucleus Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Nucleus Films
    Released on: September 21st, 2020.
    Director: Pasquale Festa Campanile
    Cast: Catherine Spaak, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Luigi Pistilli, Frank Wolff, Fabienne Dalì
    Year: 1968
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    The Libertine – Movie Review:

    Pasquale Festa Campanile’s 1968 film The Libertine (known as La Matriarca in its native Italy), opens at a funeral. Here we meet newly widowed Mimi (Catharine Spaak), a lovely young woman whose husband, Franco, has recently passed on. After the funeral, she goes to see the lawyer who mentions to her a piece of property that no one can seem to find a key to. When she goes home and finds the key, she opens the place up and discovers that dear, departed Franco had a bit of a double life. Not only does she come across a swinging pad with a well-stocked bar but she also finds a collection of homemade stag movies starring her best friend Claudia (Fabienne Dalì) and Franco himself.

    “If he wanted to try this thing why didn't he try it with me? I was respected, I was his wife.”

    Mimi, who seemingly felt very little after losing her husband, is hurt – but not specifically because he was cheating on her, more so because he didn’t bring her into his kinky world! With this in mind, and armed with a hardcover copy of Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, Mimi sets out to have her own flings and adventures of the carnal kind. This starts when she seduces the lawyer, then her dentist (Frank Wolff) and then her tennis coach (Philippe Leroy, who she imagines jumping over the net in a fur bikini and beating her with a bull whip!). From there, she accidently hooks (Gabriele Tinti plays the john!) and then gets into some rough sex with a man named Otto (Luigi Pistilli) at a party where she’s given an odd necklace made from a living beetle. As her sexual awakening continues, she splits from a weird three-way with some kinky cosplay before settling on her X-ray technician, Carlo De Marchi (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and discovering she has particular kink of her own, as well as the real reason she keeps sneezing.

    A genuinely funny and charming sex comedy, The Libertine is an absolute joy to watch. The film is about as stylish as they come, a dazzling array of mod styles, swanky locations and crazy sixties furnishing that result in a constant barrage of eye candy and the excellent score from Armando Trovajoli is the icing on the cake. Production values are top notch, with some stunning cinematography from Alfio Contini producing some unexpectedly odd but no less effective camera angels to help add to the film’s unpredictability and quirk factor in a big way.

    The story is also very clever, allowing Mimi’s character arc to develop at a nice pace. As her sexual awakening starts to rise to a boil, it’s interesting to see what works for her and what doesn’t in the film, with some of her conquests ending with a smile, and others with tears. This all matters once she and Carlo develop a relationship of sorts, resulting in an interesting and oddly moving scene where he decides to beat her at her own game as they drive home from a night away. None of this is particularly politically correct, mind you, but even when involved in the rougher stuff we always get the impression that Catharine is going along with this not necessarily because she likes it, but because she doesn’t quite know what she likes.

    In the middle of all of this is the lovely Catharine Spaak. Though it appears that she used a body double in the nude scenes, she’s not less appealing than had she pranced about in her actual birthday suit (and she comes so close to it often enough that you don’t mind so much!). She looks excellent in the different costumes provided for the film, and Campanile and company are savvy enough to let her natural charms sit center stage, often times focusing on her eyes and her cute, crooked smile. She’s perfect for the part and the camera loves her. Trintignant is very good her as well, though he doesn’t really get any screen time until well past the half-way point in the film and, as such, doesn’t get as much to do as his co-star. Still, the scenes that they share together are memorable and well-played. Supporting work from Luigi Pistilli, Frank Wolff an underused Gabriel Tinti and blonde bombshell Fabienne Dalì is also noteworthy and adds to the film’s positive qualities.

    The Blu-ray defaults to the original ninety-four minute Italian version of the film (1:34:25), with your choice of English or Italian audio and English subtitles or English SDH. However, Nucleus has also included the alternate ninety-four-minute American theatrical version of the film (1:34:16), presented with English or Italian audio and English subtitles or English SDH options, which is interesting as it’s the sexier cut of the film that was put together by Radley Metzger when the picture was distributed by his Audubon Films in the late sixties.

    The differences are starts that this version starts with an Audubon Films credit, then a ‘Radley Metzger presents' credits as well as a title card reading The Libertine. The credits are all in English. Some exposition is missing here and the English dubbing is different than that which is supplied in the Italian version. As to what Metzger added, when Mimi first finds Franco’s stag clips and watches them, the movie within a movie runs a bit longer and features some full frontal nudity. Additionally, the scene that shows the man running into the blonde’s room while the party is going on runs longer here, and it features him amusingly jumping up and down before hopping into bed with her and slapping her, then rubbing his face between her breasts and kissing her. There’s also an extension to the sex scene between Pistilli and Spaak that uses some obvious body doubles to make the oral sex a bit more graphic. And that scarab beetle necklace? He spends a bit more time on a breast and nipple in this cut than in the Italian version.

    The Libertine – Blu-ray Review:

    The Libertine comes to Region B Blu-ray presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition “restored from the best available elements” and framed at 1.85.1. The Italian cut gets 25.7GBs of space on the disc and it generally looks pretty good given its origins. There is a lot of noticeable filtering in the cinematography. As such, some scenes look a bit softer than others and you do have to wonder if multiple sources were used to put this together. There’s also what looks like some sporadic DNR in some scenes. Overall though, this looks good. Colors in particular are reproduced very nicely and skin tones look perfect. We get nice black levels as well and there are no noticeable problems with any noise reduction or crush. The U.S. version, also presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, gets 14.4Gbs of space and is of similar quality.

    There is a strange anomaly where bright whites in the background kind of flutter a bit while people/objects in the foreground stay stationary. This happens rarely, but it does happen in both cuts of the film (you can see it, though not in motion, in screen cap below). The reason for this is interesting. Apparently these white areas originally showed some artwork that was removed after the film had been completely. Each frame had to have the art manually removed, and as this was done by hand (and to the original negative), it resulted in the fluttering effect that we see in the film. It appears that this odd phenomenon effects every known version of the film out there. Marc Morris from Nucleus Films discovered this while working on the restoration, and interestingly enough, in some of the film’s promotional materials show the scenes with the paintings in the background.

    It’s theorized that the art was done by Campanile's ex-wife and was removed after they split up, but it could also be that they were removed for legal reasons or because the images were too graphic but the truth is that no one seems to really definitively know why this happened. (Kat Ellinger covers this in her commentary – more on that below in the extras section - around the eighteen-minute mark).

    Italian and English language audio options are provided for both versions of the movie in 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono with optional subtitles available in English translating both tracks. Generally speaking, the audio is clean, clear and nicely balanced regardless of which option you go for. Dialogue is always discernable and easy to follow and that fantastic score from Armando Trovajoli sounds excellent here. Not problems with any hiss or distortion to complain about, all is well on the audio front.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary with Kat Ellinger available over the original 94-minute version. She starts by discussing the restoration that Nucleus Films has done for the release before then going on and attempting to contextualize the film within Pasquale Festa Campanile's cannon, noting that he also worked as a writer and journalist as well as a filmmaker. She notes that during this period he was starting to experiment with erotic themes, talks about how and why Spaak wound up in Italy, how prolific some of the cult actors who appear in the picture were in both the arthouse and cult film scenes, how Campanile's films were received by the critics of his day, thoughts no Spaak's character as portrayed in the film and how it compares to similar films made by the likes of Jess Franco and pictures like The Story Of O. As the track continues, Ellinger covers the contributions of the different cast and crew involved with the picture, the way that Mimi's sexual journey is portrayed in the film, Spaak's experiences on this and other sets in the Italian film industry as well as the possibility of her having been linked to Campanile romantically. She also notes that The Libertine breaks some new ground in the way that it tells a woman's story in a pretty patriarchal industry, how the film was reviewed when it played in the United States in the wake of Midnight Cowboy, Campanile's interest in gender politics and more. It's interesting stuff.

    A featurette entitled Fantasy, Futurism & Frivolity: Production Design In Pasquale Festa Campanile’s The Libertine is a video essay of sorts hosted by Rachael Nisbet that runs for twenty-seven-minutes. It covers the interiors and costuming featured in the picture and how the use of space and design ties into Mimi’s sexual emancipation. She notes the use of modern futurism in the film’s dressing and how this relates to Mimi’s character arc, Flavio Mogherini’s production design work for Campanile and other Italian filmmakers, some of the people that Mogherini worked with while plying his trade, the depiction of domesticity as fantasy, how the use of color ties in to Mimi’s awakening, how fashions highlight certain themes that the film deals with and more.

    A second featurette, Trovajoli: Postlude, lets Lovely Jon discuss composer Armando Trovajoli’s work for twenty-eight-minutes. Conducted over Skype due to Covid-19 restrictions, the feature does a pretty deep dive into Trovajoli’s career, discussing his family life and background as well as his training and his entrance into scoring films in the 1940’s. He covers the influence of George Gershwin’s work and his use of jazz, which worked its way into Trovajoli’s own work. We learn how he played at jazz festivals in his twenties, radio broadcasts that he did, his work with the I Marc 4 quartet on Sesso Matto and Blazing Magnum, how some of Trovajoli’s was actually played in nightclubs after achieving popularity in Italy, the different ways that the main theme for The Libertine is interpreted in the film’s soundtrack, how well the music works alongside what we see happen in the film, the way that the musical ques change to Bruno Nicolai’s work during the scene at the gas station, how the music balances the kinks on display in the film and loads more.

    Nucleus also provides sixteen-minutes of outtakes and alternate scenes – there’s some more graphic flagellation as well as more of the ‘doctor play’ from the stag movie reels featured in the picture as well as various bits and pieces with Mimi doing her thing, quite a bit of footage from the pink bedroom scene, more with the bug necklace on Mimi’s body and some extensions to the scenes of the maid being housed down.

    The Film Censor Cuts section is a two minute piece that details the cuts that the BBFC originally required when The Libertine was submitted for classification for the first time. The TopFilm Fotoromanzi bit is a two minute still gallery showing off a photo comic version of the story from an Italian magazine called TopFilm. Both of these are on the shorter side but still very welcome and neat to see included here.

    Extras specific to U.S. version include two different theatrical trailers. Closing out the extras on the disc is an extensive image gallery of promotional material from around the world, three different theatrical trailers (English, French and Italian), alternate English and French language title sequences, a five-minute Japanese DVD release promo, an Audubon Films poster gallery, menus and chapter selection. Nucleus has also supplied some reversible cover sleeve art with the English poster art on one side and the Italian poster art on the reverse side.

    The Libertine – The Final Word:

    The Libertine is a genuinely charming film, a beautifully made European sex comedy that is not only legitimately funny but, at times, somewhat thought provoking as well. Nucleus has really rolled out the red carpet for the film, offering up both versions in high definition and with a host of extras that document its history and explore its importance. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized The Libertine Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Andrew Monroe's Avatar
      Andrew Monroe -
      Great review! I absolutely cannot wait to see this...looks right up my alley. The Trovajoli score is amazing. Spaak is simply stunning.
    1. agent999's Avatar
      agent999 -
      Currently £9.99 on Amazon.