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* 1.5 million Euro was donated to the production by the Italian Ministry for Arts & Culture on the basis of the film's cultural significance.
* Italian authorities originally rated the film as unsuitable for anyone under 14. However, director Tinto Brass fought to have this raised to prohibit anyone under 18 from seeing it on the basis that younger viewers would not understand the complexities of the film. Brass later relented and the lesser rating stayed. Outside of Italy, however, it was deemed suitable for adults only.
* The film won an Italian "Silver Ribbon" award for best costume design.
BLACK ANGEL (2002)
d.Tinto Brass; pr. Giuseppe Colombo; scr. Tinto Brass; novel. Camillo Boito; ph. Massimo Di Venanzo, Daniele Nannuzzi; m. Ennio Morricone; ed. Tinto Brass, Fiorenzo Muller; cast. Anna Galiena, Gabriel Garko, Franco Branciaroli, Antonio Salines, Simona Borioni, Loredana Cannata (128 mins)
Fascism and the Cinema of Degenerate Eroticism: "Nazirotica"
Black Angel signalled director Tinto Brass’ return to the complex and disturbing moral and sexual ambiguity of such controversial works as Salon Kitty and The Key after years of rather light erotic films in comparison.
Brass had an interest in sexual power as anarchic and even revolutionary and in his films thus sought to negotiate the power of sexuality in human affairs. However, although his more critically celebrated works explored the baser aspects of such sexual drives, his more recent work had sought another tactic as he seemed intent to explore the funny, playful side of natural individual sexual expression within the repressive society. Indeed, by the time of Black Angel, Brass had a solid reputation as Italy’s premier eroticist. Thus, it was found unusual by some that he should choose to tackle the esteemed novel by Camillo Buito filmed previously by Luchino Visconti as Senso in 1954. Italian critics were concerned that Brass was going to disrespectfully trash a piece of high culture. Where the novel concerned the crisis within Italian aristocracy at the end of the 19th century, Brass re-set the period to the end of World War Two, thus evoking the Nazi eroticism of his earlier Salon Kitty. Although expected to run into censorship problems over its explicitness, Black Angel segued into the art-house scene and in so doing brought Brass a critical respectability that had eluded most of his work since the early 1980s.
Synopsis (contains spoilers)
Set in Italy in 1943, in “Year 23 of the Fascist Era”, Black Angel begins with a respectable lady (Anna Galiena) leaving her house to be driven to an unknown location.
The film then proceeds in flashbacks, punctuated by returns to the woman’s trip, the end of the film being the culmination of that journey. In these flashbacks, it is the beginning of the Nazi takeover and as she, a married woman, attends a play she is fascinated by a younger man, a blond Aryan Nazi (Gabriel Garko). She dislikes her old, overweight husband and longs for a liaison with Garko, who in turn takes her almost by force. Soon, Nazi power escalates and Garko has dealings with her husband, the prospect of her betrayal being discovered thrilling her somewhat as she acquiesces with Nazi authority. She soon descends ever more into the world of Nazi sexual decadence, finding Garko to be a gambler and libertine despite the credo of fascistic discipline. She faces her husband, who then tells her she has the reputation of a whore. Her husband gives her money and wishes that she leave before the fascist authority in Italy finally collapses. She takes the money but seeks out Garko and gives it to him to aid in his potential escape. She speeds to meet Garko at a destined rendezvous but finds him with another woman and overhears what the man really thinks of her. Feeling betrayed and humiliated, she seeks to turn him in to the Nazis.
Sexual Anarchy within Totalitarian Regimes
Black Angel takes on many of the themes present in Brass’ earlier Salon Kitty, particularly of the role of sexual anarchy within a controlling fascistic authority.
Its story of an older woman’s idealization of a young authoritative Nazi as a sexual object both suggests the erotic appeal of fascism and, in her priorities, suggests the anarchic power of lust to undercut any “higher” moral or political precepts. Sexual experience and sexual idealization are the real defining forces behind one’s identity. However, Brass complicates this by suggesting that it is not only sexual experience but the memory of it that dictates behaviour. For Brass, such degeneracy supports an “order” ostensibly founded on repression of the same: this paradox, doomed to consume itself, makes of Nazism a kind of romantic, even tragic, fetishistic allure and the film thus capturing the Nazi paradox to many: the guise of order as concealing a greater sexual voracity. This subtext hovers in the background, Brass engaging with it as underlying the protagonist’s ability to avoid directly confronting the Nazi horrors gradually revealed around her. It validates her sexual fantasies. The more she retreats into a sexual fantasy, the more her “reality” is illusory. The seductive qualities in turn create a culture drawn to then sexualize this power. The brilliance of Black Angel is that it finds both the attractive and the awfulness inherent in sexualizing Nazism.
With allusions to Bertolucci and Pasolini, Brass structurally depicts the sexual allure of the Nazi ideal and then systematically exposes first the anarchic threat this poses to idealism and then the selfish hypocrisy which underlies even an anarchic sexuality.
The sexual acts are thus structured as symbolic discourses on sex and power: she is sodomized in defiance of the Nazi’s own ideals and finally reveals her complete subservience to the anarchic sexual power by fellating Garko. Brass works to explore the sexuality underlining all power and all reaction in relation to such an awesome power. As Brass put it in an interview, the theme here is “the orgy of power is overtaken by the power of the orgy.” Sex blinds all to their actions and is the main point for the negotiation of all power and authority. The protagonist is thus finally a hypocrite, unable even to see the anarchic disregard for morality in her desires and finally how her vindictiveness at sexual betrayal adopts a moral precept merely to disguise her self-serving agenda. In that she finally realizes she has been duped by an authority merely a front for a self-serving and all-consuming degeneracy, her character becomes a metaphor for Italy itself during World War Two: the immoral mistress of a sexually system of power and, hence, of sexual fantasy itself. Her humiliation culminates a sexual abandon to amoral desire leading to a return to former priorities, but only in defeat.
Ambiguous Erotica: Sexual Number as Set Piece
The anamorphic widescreen transfer preserves the evocative design in both its black and white scenes and colourful flashbacks.
Stylish and deliberate, the flashbacks suggest the passion of memory and the vividness with which the protagonist thus considers her liberation and personal power in such sexuality. The theatre scene begins what is a self-conscious play with inter-played notions of art and decadence. Brass adopts a restless camera alongside his trademark mirror shots and some beautifully symmetrical compositions. Period and location are well suggested. The sexual numbers are progressively explicit and nice colour motifs are deployed on the red and black of the swastika and the Nazi uniforms. The variety in sexual numbers is telling: from near-rape to idyllic beachfront frolics and the symbolic submission to degenerate authority in the sodomy, fellatio and orgy scenes. The orgy scene is a key point in the film. The ambiguous nature of erotica is suggested in one shot which lingers on the spread legs of a woman just shot by the Nazis, leading to a very charged sensuality through the film. Undressing is a motif here, again the symbolic stripping of the front of ideology and authority to reveal the sexually anarchic desires that sustain it. The elaborate party scene alludes to Caligula especially as Brass suggests that sexual collusion with power both betrays and represents humanity’s baseness.
Pleasure and Power as Audio-scape
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound transfer is more than capable as diegetic effects (with rain being particularly frequent) are always crisp and almost formal in their precision, nicely reflective of the film’s sense of class and stature (refined dialogue, corked wine bottles) and the slide from such into decadence.
Ennio Morricone’s score is a vibrant accompaniment to the film, releasing an often stuffiness to the décor, neatly timed to the sexual release of the mounting passion in the film. Clever use is made of the way sound effects straddle present and flashback. There is much evident finesse in foley and design work, footsteps on varied surfaces having a not-overstated resonance, and there is a clever use of voice-over narration to relate the sexual nature of the fusion of thought, identity and memory. Voices are always crisp and there is a measure of barely contained passion in Galiena and of arrogant pride in Garko. Dialogue is occasionally allusive. Tones of voice nicely mediate emotional qualities and the subtitles are clear and nicely timed. The laughter throughout is telling, slowly seguing from pleasure into a more ironic power: any such sexual congress will mimic or degenerate into such power plays. Background sounds create an effective atmosphere to exteriors, with nice use of a radio playing in some scenes. The slap of skin on skin is pointedly used, as it is in much of adult cinema.
Bonus for DVD Enthusiasts
In addition to an original Italian theatrical trailer (without subtitles) is a making-of documentary offering a montage set to Morricone music which has a stylized look.
Brass speaks (subtitled) of his view of the book, the Visconti film as failing to capture the book and why he changed the time period. Galiena speaks of her character, her acting style and the erotic scenes. Garko likewise speaks of his character, on shooting the sex scenes and working with Brass. There is some behind-the-scenes footage during the making of the orgy sequence as Brass refers to the degenerate parties of the fascist republic of Salo. Other actors talk of their characters and of Brass. Also covered are the set designs – of the use of windows and set dressing to evoke period – and how Brass is fascinated by changing morality in the passage from one era to another (which he says was also a theme behind Caligula). There is talk of Morricone’s approach to the score, as he sought to match the emotions of love to period fascist music and Brass speaks of his several homages to those directors he considers his “masters” – Visconti and Rossellini – and on the use of black and white as a specific reference to Italian neo-realism. Brass mentions the film also as a journey. In addition is an interview with Brass (on the set of the earlier Cheeky) and an Arrow promotional catalogue of cover art but no previews.
USA DVD PURCHASE INFORMATION:Black Angel [Region 2]
UK DVD PURCHASE INFORMATION: Black Angel (Senso '45) [DVD] 
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(UPDATED: January 13, 2013 18:20 )