Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Sex of Angels / Il sesso degli angeli (1968)

This wicked looking poster for the nominally X-rated Italian/German drama The Sex of Angels and the Google plot synopsis, which reads “young women steal a yacht and kidnap a young man and spend a weekend having sex and doing drugs,” really aren’t all that misleading, although there’s a lot more to the story. The poster also exaggerates the situation, as what is depicted is rather the result of a conundrum brought on by irresponsibility followed by an even more irresponsible course of action. 

The setup to The Sex of Angels is, of course, an appealing one to the male fancy. Being seized by three beautiful modern-day angels and taken on a boat ride into the endless summer of ’68? Why not? It sounds like a good time, and for the most part it is, but in trying to postulate what the film might be trying to say with its outcome, I can’t help but put it in the context of ‘60s youth counter culture and the sexual revolution and see it as a cautionary tale of seduction and widespread use of LSD and what I thought was a kind of critical impression of the behaviors of the “sexually liberated.”

The film is written and directed by Ugo Liberatore, who also co-wrote and directed Damned in Venice (1978) (see also Bora Bora, Bali, and May Morning). He has fewer directing and far more writing credits to his name, which includes The Witch (1966) and The Cruel Ones (1967). Music in the film is by Giovanni Fusco (A Black Veil for Lisa 1968) and (according to the intro credits) is directed by Bruno Nicolai. Not surprisingly the music is a strong point, consisting of acid-rock cuts and a bombastic, fanfare-y main theme that really hits me in my 1960s sentimental core, almost in a similar way that the music in Barbarella (1968) does.

I’m assuming our trio of angels are college students on summer break, as Nora (Doris Kunstmann - Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye 1973) seems to be planning an important trip on her father’s yacht with her two friends, Nancy (Rosemary Dexter - Eye in the Labyrinth 1972) and Carla (Laura Troschel - Four Flies on Grey Velvet 1971). They stop by an old mansion to pick up Nora’s lover, Luca (Giovanni PetrucciThe Man with Icy Eyes 1971), who Nora wants to take along for their private pleasure cruise. Luca is not too keen on the idea of leaving his work post to head out to sea with Nora and her crew earlier than planned, and so the girls ditch him and leave the mansion. Here, it’s almost like the film is saying, “nope, we’re not setting this story in a mansion this time around.”

Instead of having an all-girls vacation at sea, the angelic-three seem to need to bring a male with them for unclear reasons. They head over to a beach side club, where all the young, cool people on summer break populate to hit the dance floor. It’s here that they spot the perfect male companion for their trip, the blond golden boy Marco (Bernard De Vries), a third-year medicine student. When Marco’s girlfriend steps aside, Nancy moves in for the capture by asking him a bunch of personal questions before asking him if he’d like to "make it" with her. Because this is a time of loose sexual morals, Marco shows casual interest and agrees to meet her at some private place out on the water, where later Nora, Nancy, and Carla pick him up on their yacht. As they sail off, unbeknownst to Marco, he has just agreed to leave with them to Yugoslavia.

I’m not sure exactly why they needed to trick a boy into coming with them, other than, I guess, the fun of having a good-looking guy around, and being a horny guy, Marco is game to play along. Nancy refers to Marco as “our Neptune,” the Roman god of the sea. Seems fitting…
Young people dream of getting away, without chaperone and with total freedom (what better than the open sea). It reminds me of when I always wanted to get a car so me and my friends could drive a long distance away to have a fishing trip with plenty of beer and cigarettes. There was something appealing when you were much younger about the idea of travelling with friends, farther than you’ve ever gone before, without parents, to be free to make a lasting memory that for many would usually involve sex and drugs. I’m thinking this is sort of related to what Nancy, Nora, and Carla have in mind.

Marco doesn’t seem to mind being kidnapped, too much, in this case, given the lovely company, and as consolation he’s taken it upon himself to try and have a brief love affair with each girl. Although, if Queens of Evil (1970) taught us anything, this is not a good idea.

He’s eventually peer-pressured into joining his kidnappers for an LSD session, locked in a cabin with them and a tape recorder in case any of them experience amnesia. The buildup to the trip with LSD laced sugar cubes almost seems magical, until the next morning when reality sets in. They wake up without any memory of what went down, The Hangover (2009) style. The post LSD trip section of the movie becomes uncomfortable, starting with Nora’s moans and cries for her father during her morning hangover, which for me had a visceral level to it that nearly made me feel her pain and nausea.

We spend most of the film on a boat with the same four characters, and it eventually feels claustrophobic despite mostly taking place on the open sea. Sort of like in Top Sensation (1969), they end up with a bit of a conundrum on the boat, and shit gradually goes from sunny to dark. No one really meant for anything bad to happen; it’s just the result of irresponsibility compounded with stupidity. 

I feel like Liberatore may’ve embedded the script with a counter sex revolution argument that the new generation of females are being irresponsible with their new freedoms, and it is men who pay the price. But on the other hand, Marco made a number of stupid decisions that helped put him where he ended up. Marco’s also pretty boorish himself and not a good guy.

For the record, I don’t agree with the potential message, but I still enjoyed The Sex of Angels for its summer aesthetic, music, characters, and story. Conflict-wise, I also think it is well-written, if underdeveloped in certain areas. I also ended up pleased with the contrast between the setup and direction. It goes from, “where could this possibly be going,” to “hey, this has gotten pretty good,” as it eventually starts to seem that our trio of seafaring angels may actually be more like demons, as I recall the old saying that evil or bad luck comes in three. 

© At the Mansion of Madness




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