La Seduzione is a key film for anyone interested in Fernando Di Leo. Unfortunately it's also a film that many fans of his action movies will likely dismiss on account of being a melodrama and which those with a more exclusively arthouse orientation will resist as derivative and, in its more explicit scenes, exploitative if hardly pornographic. (As Last Tango in Paris reminds us, the ways in which this kind of 'adult' film and the debates around it are framed are crucial: art or exploitation, erotica or pornography)
I sat this because the subject matter of the drama – a middle-aged man, Giuseppe Lagana, returns to his old home town after years abroad, embarks upon a relationship with a woman his own age, Caterina, and then becomes involved with her adolescent daughter, Graziella – has obvious affinities with Nabokov's Lolita and Kubrick's adaptation of it.
Nevertheless, Seduction is its own film, with less of a paedophiliac subtext given Graziella's older age and greater maturity; the casting of the more womanly 20-year old Jenny Tamburi in the role of Graziella compared to the 15-year-old Sue Lyon in the title role of Kubrick's film; and the fact that the contours of the characters' relationships are different.
Most importantly the film was adapted from a respectable literary source, in the form of the 1970 novel Graziella by the Catanian writer Ettore Patti, which if obviously post-dating Nabokov's novel can also be placed in the context of a writing career stretching back to the 1920s in which he had earlier also approached the subject of Peter Pan syndrome – i.e. men refusing to grow up and accept adult roles and responsibilities.
While it would take an extraordinarily brave critic to favourable compare Di Leo's direction to that of Kubrick, it is clear in any case that Di Leo has his own approach to the subject matter, one that is less detached and observational and more involved.
Similarly, if none of the male players, led by Maurice Ronet in the role of Giuseppe, are quite as memorable as James Mason and Peter Sellers in Lolita, this may also be an advantage insofar as we often now remember Sellers' performances more than the films in which they appeared and characters they related to. As it is, Ronet does well in making his character neither pathetic, nor a monster, but a believable, if flawed, human being whom we may feel for even as we recognise his wrongdoing.
The two female leads, the other being Lisa Gastoni as the mother, are beautifully played, both actresses delivering the kind of brave and sensitive performances that deserved more attention and recognition than they ever received.
Interestingly, Di Leo had originally considered Ornella Muti for the role of Graziella, but was apparently given something of a her-or-me ultimatum by Gastoni and thus went with Tamburi. While there seems little doubt that Muti's presence would have changed the dynamics of the film considerably, if we think of the likes of her work for Damiani as the young bride of The Most Beautiful Wife – itself another film that reminds us of the culturally specific aspects around adolescent sexuality and community moral standards – it's a testament to the under-rated and sadly subsequently under-utilised Tamburi that one also finds it difficult to re-imagine the film without her. Anyone seeking more evidence of her abilities is advised to check her out in Silvio Amadio's Smile Before Death, where she plays a similarly (not so?) innocent victim.
[Some Italian references on Patti and his work: