Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gilded Melancholy: Radley Metzger's CAMILLE 2000

Perfection and warmth are two elements that are not always put together hand in hand. Warmth is often emotion, that wonderful, horrible, messy thing that sets species apart from rocks and sociopaths. On the other hand, you have perfection, which is most definitely not anything related to humanity. Perfection is often perceived as beauty without heart, but there are some key exceptions to this rule, most notably Radley Metzger's updated version of Alexandre Dumas's classic novel, The Lady of the Camellias. Metzger's film, CAMILLE 2000, is both sumptuous to look at but also, at heart, incredibly melancholy. (Which would be in keeping in spirit with the source material.) 

The lovely Daniele Gaubert
The story begins with Armand (Nino Castelnuovo), a handsome and somewhat unambitious young lad who is being sent to Italy to attend to some business for his rich and powerful father (Massimo Serato). He meets up with Gastion (Roberto Bisacco), a dandy about town who takes Armand to a gala. While he points out the various available women and their assorted scandals, Armand ends up seeing the beautiful and fragile Marguerite (Daniele Gaubert). Gastion tries to dissuade him, deeming Margeurite “impossible,” but the match has been lit and both ends are burning. 

A lot of heartbreak emerges from this pursuit of amour. Right from the start, both Armand and Marguerite are doomed for a myriad of reasons, whether it is her financial debt and borderline kept lady status with a wealthy but mal-emotional Duke or Armand's money conscious father. Mme. Fatale radiates off of Marguerite. Like all truly damaged and self destructive people, it is only a matter of time that the shrapnel will be felt by those closest to her, especially Armand. 

 Gaubert & Nina Castelnuovo
Metzger, a bred New Yorker born with the aesthetic soul of a European, has become renowned for his attention to visuals and deft use of erotic themes. While some of his later work definitely fits that bill, the sexuality that lies within CAMILLE 2000 is less erotic and more reflective of the emotional mental state of the characters. Some of the scenes are bold for their time but in typical Metzger fashion, are tasteful not matter how outre they may border on. In fact, Metzger's whole soft-toned, high fashion sexuality pre-dated filmmakers like Just Jaeckin (EMMANUELLE, THE STORY OF O) and David Hamilton (BILITIS) by a number of years. (Oddly enough, both Jaeckin and Hamilton are European and come from a fashion photography background.) This is definitely the case of a film that may have been marketed in some areas as arty sexploitation (complete with then X rating) but that would have been more at home in your friendly neighborhood arthouse. (Though don't think the twain never met with those two either.) 

Speaking of visuals, the attention to detail in CAMILLE 2000 is gorgeous. This film is David Lean lush. From the 60's futuristic plastic furniture and light up cubes to the rococo color schemes of the Italian coastal landscape and the natural beauty of the actors themselves, CAMILLE 2000 is eye candy in motion. 

  Luckily for us, there is more than meets the eye, with strong performances from both Gaubert and Castelnuovo as the lovers who suffer due to bad family and even worse habits. Gaubert is alternately lovely, ethereal and sad in a role that had been previously played by such early screen legends as Greta Garbo and Alla Nazimova. Castelnuovo is a good match with his earnest, handsome Armand, who transforms from a borderline shy young man to a heartbroken firebrand within the 131 minute running time. The other actors are good, with Zachary Adams being a real standout as Gody, a sweet gay fashion designer who is one of the few humane people in Marguerite's life, even despite her occasionally stank behavior.

 Zachary Adams as the good intentioned Gody

This film's beauty is equally matched by Cult Epics' loving release. It is sweet to see a filmmaker of Metzger's caliber getting his proper due thanks to the hard work of companies like Cult Epics and Distribpix (for the cherried out release of THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN.) CAMILLE 2000 has never looked better. In addition to this fine transfer, there are also a slew of extras, including a 30 minute featurette, “On the Set,” that has behind-the-scenes footage along with some fascinating and revealing commentary throughout courtesy of the man himself, Radley Metzger. On top of that, there is also an equally good feature commentary with Metzger and moderator Michael Bowen, striptease footage that had been excised before the film's initial release, a featurette on the restoration process complete with before and after shots and trailers for CAMILLE 2000, the even more lush looking THE LICKERISH QUARTET and SCORE.

CAMILLE 2000 is an interesting cinematic creature. It's art, it's sexy, it's sad and leaves its lonely and beautiful mark on you once you have witnessed it. Bless Radley Metzger and his European creative heart, film making ways.

 La ronde

© Heather Drain 2011