aka The Laughing Woman aka The Frightened Woman
1969 Italy Directed by Piero Schivazappa Shameless DVD Region 0
Every once in a while I come across a movie that is a welcome breath of refreshing air and which makes all the recent movies I’ve seen lately seem a little dull in comparison. Such a film is Femina Ridens.
I first came across the title of this movie a decade or so ago when I was trying to put together a set of the “Easy Tempo” Italian soundtrack compilation albums. Not an easy task when they’d all just been deleted and stocks were depleted (although they’re back now... or so I understand). Back at that time I was buying a lot of Italian score compilations because I like the bizarre psychedelic places that some of that kind of music goes to and... sure enough... on a good deal of these albums there would usually be found at least one track that was lifted from the movie Femina Ridens. And since it turned up so often I wanted to take a look at this movie and see what the appeal was.
Flash forward to just a month or two ago. I came across a movie in a shop put out by Shameless called The Frightened Woman and I don’t know what made me look closer at the box but I soon discovered that the movie was actually an uncut, premier release (in the UK) of this movie I had been wanting to see. So I took it home with me expecting a somewhat harrowing account of a D/s relationship which has always been the central promise of the film.
Which is what I got to start out with but then...
OK. Let’s go over the basics first... In this movie, Dr. Sayer played by Philippe Leroy (Mother of Tears), an absolutely riveting performer with a very distinctive look and style about him kidnaps Maria (Dagmar Lassander from Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion and Werewolf Woman) and subjects her to pseudo-sadomasochistic games (quite tame in many ways but possibly not so to a predominately vanilla audience). However, despite threats to kill her, she wins his heart and they embark on a “romantic” relationship when the film takes a slightly different tack.
All looks quite dull put into words like that, doesn’t it. But I assure you, Femina Ridens has so much more to offer you. This film is a bizarre film for the surrealist in all of us which gets very over the top funny, I think (hope) intentionally and you will have a really good time with this movie.
Let’s do a little list of incidents for you to give you an impression of what you’re letting yourself in for when you sit down to view this wonderful dessert of a film.
1. During the opening sequence a queue of men are lined up between a giant pair of female legs, waiting to enter the big “vagina with teeth” opening. Later on in this movie a man will enter the vagina and will be spit out again as a skeleton (I think there’s an obvious metaphor in there but by this time I was having so much fun with the movie that I wasn’t taking notes!).
2. A touch of a button and a sliding dividing wall through the middle of a bed reveals that Maria is in bed with Dr. Sayer. Simultaneously, a drawer beneath the bed slides out and he extracts a lifesized sex doll replica of himself which he presses against her body in a desperate parody of sexual intercourse.
3. Dr. Sayer is in his sunken bath with Maria attending. Without any warning he suddenly leaps up out of the bath to a waiting trapeze-like piece of apparatus above his head and starts doing naked gymnastics in front of her (by this point I was in fits of laughter).
4. A really cute and hilarious but bewitching dance by Maria wearing a semi-transparent top. The music beats and the moves are addictive.
5. An unbelievable, almost parody, of a “lovers montage”. Yes, it is way over the top and inappropriate. It’s absolute genius. Includes walking on hands, chase through forest, strongman antics etc.
6. A really hilarious scene with a scowling dwarf!
And so much more. Too much to mention even. This is one of those rare films that, although you’ll figure out the twist ending pretty early on, will manage to surprise you from sequence to sequence with just tiny amusing, unexpected touches. Even the old trick of playing with the medium of film and going into a “click and you’re a still photograph” sequence actually took me unawares as it started.
The performances by the two lead actors are quite intense and the cinematography is just amazing and sumptuous. A real confection for the eyes as people are shot through foreground shapes and objects (including typographic loops used to frame Dagmar Lassander on one occasion). Brilliant colours and sly camera moves had me bouncing up and down on my chair in appreciation.
And of course the music is superb, being as it’s composed by the great Stelvio Cipriani (Blindman, Death Walks on High Heels, Twitch of the Death Nerve). Digitmovies reissued a limited, expanded edition of this score a couple of years ago. I think thy might still have a few copies left. Don’t delay... if you like this music, buy today.
Shameless Screen Entertainment have done their usual, expert job and made a lot of people happy by finally releasing this movie in what is apparently the most complete edition of the film to date. Credit and thanks to them for getting this stuff out on the streets and into the hands of the people who care about this little corner of the history of cinema. A great gift to us.
Every now and again I come across a movie that is so special in the way it defies what you think it ought to be that I immediately need to lend it to all my friends so that they can share the experience too... which is exactly what I’ll be doing with this one... and I just know that after seeing it... some of them will be buying their own copies too!
Please note: Anyone wishing to buy a copy of this film should know that the DVDs put out by Shameless come in reversible sleeves and that of the two covers pictured above, the film is on sale in this country under the title “The Frightened Woman.”