APPASSIONATA (1974) — Greek Tragedy Via Italian Sleaze

Appassionata released on Blu-ray last month from Twilight Time in a Limited Edition of 3000 units.

With Appassionata, Twilight Time once again returns to the world of obscure Italian pulp (see February’s La Bambola di Satana), and it’s very exciting to see the company take on this underrepresented niche of films which are not only rarely seen, but typically in poor condition and almost never in the US.

Unfortunately, their offerings thus far have been more commendable for their obscurity than their quality. And whereas La Bambola di Satana was a cheesily watchable giallo, Appassionata is instead a difficult and disturbing drama of familial dysfunction and erotic taboos.

On the surface, the Rutellis are an enviable upscale family. Patriarch Emilio (Gabriele Ferzetti) is a successful dentist, and his practice affords them a comfortable living, evident in their luxurious home. His wife Elisa (Valentina Cortese) is a stay-at-home mom who once enjoyed a career as a talented musician. Their daughter Eugenia (Ornella Muti) is a beautiful teenage girl who is popular at school and dotes on her father.

But just below the surface of this family are some deep fissures. Elisa gave up her promising career as a pianist to marry and start a family, and resents her shattered dreams. As a result, she’s deeply depressed and neurotic, causing Emilio to wonder if their best recourse is to institutionalize her — and whether doing so would be in the interest of her health, or to sate his own selfish interest. Eugenia despises her manic-depressive mother and instead lavishes all her affection to her father, with whom she has an Oedipal infatuation. Emilio is in the middle of it all trying to be a good and loving father and husband, but is completely ineffectual under these absurdly impossible circumstances. The family is a powder keg, ready to blow.

The fuse comes in the form of Eugenia’s friend Nicola (Eleonora Giorgi), a nubile blonde with an appetite for older partners. The sexually experienced girl tells virginal Eugenia that she prefers “real men” over idiotic schoolboys, and then turns her attention to Emilio, who succumbs to the girl’s advances (in his defense, she basically forces herself and engages him before he even knows what’s happening — under the circumstances, he never stood a chance). Surprisingly, Nicola also forms a bond with the jittery Elisa and resents her cruel treatment at the hands of her daughter, showing a compassionate side and adding yet another complex layer of drama to the insanity. The result is a maze of secrets and lies, and a taboo love triangle (quadrilateral?) with Emilio, who actually seems a pretty decent guy, at its center between his deranged wife, incest-curious daughter, and a teenage nymphomaniac.

Yeesh. Europe.

I’ll give Appassionata this much: it’s not boring. Disturbing, dark, and disagreeable, but never dull. Every astoundingly scandalous development keeps the audience on its toes, and the film’s insane conclusion is a definite shocker. The film, which from a clinical perspective is essentially about three forms of mental illness, is disturbing and its finale is so strange and unexpected that I’m not even sure of what lesson, if any, it’s trying to impart. The story is told rather straight without offering any sort of moral compass, relying entirely on the audience to form any conclusion. Is it an art film? Euro-sleaze? Message movie? Greek tragedy? It’s not really any of these, and yet all of them at once. It’s artsy, but not overtly so. And while the film isn’t shy with nudity, its shocks are much more ingrained in the taboo subject matter than any on-screen explicitness. But if there’s a message here, it’s muddled at best, leaving the audience to glean what meaning they can from a dismal conclusion.

This is definitely a niche film for a small target audience. If you’re into 60s European weirdness, well, this is definitely that. I certainly can’t recommend it, and have no interest in revisiting it. While there’s an earnest dramatic side to this film, to me it ultimately still just felt like trash.

The Package

Appassionata is now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in a limited edition of 3000 units. It follows the usual packaging motif of a clear case and 8-page booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo. Interestingly, she touches on a lot of the same themes I did.

The disc includes both Italian and English dub audio tracks, and English subtitles. The subtitles are kind of weird and occasionally display lapses in grammar, as well as some inexplicable oddities, including several instances of “?????”, or the German “nein” instead of “no”. It’s understandable, but sloppy.

Special Features and Extras

Isolated Score Track

Like Twilight Time’s recent release of La Bambola di Satana, the main draw for Appassionata is its rarity and obscurity: those who are interested in the film can now relatively easily and inexpensively obtain a high quality Blu-ray copy rather than tracking down an import, ancient VHS tape, or (highly unlikely) 35mm print for outrageous prices.

A/V Out.

Available directly from Twilight Time.

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