Returning home one night after his flight to New York is postponed due to fog, lawyer Mario Marani (Ugo Tognazzi) finds his wife Francesca (Edwige Fenech) asleep and someone – a man – hiding in a closet.
This spurs Mario to imagine his wife having all manner of affairs with their friends and associates – if, that is, they are all in fact Mario's imaginings. For while some of the scenarios have a clear fantasy element, as when Jean-Luc Retrosi (Luc Merenda) goes outside into the snow on a skiing trip to kill the bear that had been watching their lovemaking from outside the cabin and returns moments later with its pelt, some of the others are more realistic / plausible in their content and / or form, eschewing more obvious fantasy sequence techniques of soft focus, dreamlike slow motion and so on, and featuring abrupt cuts from one state / scene to another.
Note the surrealist figures in the painting
Note the dark / light contrasts and boundary between Mario and Francesca
Double images of duplicity?
It's these, along with some of Cattivi pensieri's other intertextual reference points that are most interesting from a non-vernacular perspective.
Three films spring to mind: The Rules of the Game, La Bete and Belle de jour. In one scene, the Marani's and their circle gather for some hunting on a country estate, leading to the blasting away of all manner of wildlife and a gag in which one of the beaters thinks they are going to shoot him and collapses in faint as the shotguns ring out, recalling the accidental shooting in Renoir's film.
The Rules of the Game
In the aforementioned snow / bear sequence, Fenech's character puts her hands to her face like Sirpa Lane's character in Borowcyzk's film on seeing the titular beast. Initially it appears a coincidence, a case of reading too much in, but then later she and a different male acquaintance are pictured watching two horses mate, recalling the opening of Borowczyk's film, which leads them into a roll in the hay of their own.
It is the aura of Belle de jour that permeates the dream sequences that is perhaps the most significant, however. In his book Cinema 2, Gilles Deleuze proposes the notion of the “crystal image,” a circuit of real and the virtual images constantly chasing after one another until it becomes impossible for the audience to distinguish between two incompossible alternatives. Thus, at the end of Belle de jour – in which a skiing trip is also featured – Severin's husband is either wheelchair bound or not, but there is nothing obvious in the presentation of the images that enables us to identify one state as true and the other as false.
I would argue that something similar, albeit less consistent and coherent, can be said about some of Cattivi pensieri's sequences, at least if we bracket the implications of the title and the neat – if beautifully ironic and revealing – ending.
Then again, it could also be countered that “if men define situations as real” a – i.e that Francesca is sleeping around – “then they are real in their consequences” – i.e. Franco's suspicion and cruelty.
Distinctive architecture in a popular film, once more.
Again the distinction between modernist art cinema and popular cinema emerges as one of degree rather than absolute divisions. (Another popular Italian film that might be worth considering in terms of its mixture of Deleuzean movement- and time-image concepts if anyone is interested in pursuing the topic further is Castellari's Keoma, particularly those fascinating scenes in which the adult Keoma gazes upon himself as a child.)
The same perhaps applies to some of the worse aspects of the “evil thoughts” regarding his wife: if they are Mario's fantasies, then they reveal just how warped his imagination can be and, by extension, implicate the male viewer who ltakes pleasure in them – not that this is a difficult thing when they feature Fenech, and plenty of her, at the pinnacle of her beauty.
Fenech dominating the male gaze?
And this, of course, is the main attraction for those who care nothing for attempting to apply theory to the Italian sex comedy or raise occasional examples of it like this out of the generic mass, and who would argue that any such attempts are misguided...