Friday, 5 October 2012

The Nude Princess / La principessa nuda

Ajita Wilson, who plays the title character, was an African-American transgender male to female who found work in a number of European sexploitation films in the 1970s and 1980s -- including roles with Carlos Aured and Jess Franco -- before dying as a result of a road accident in 1987. While some of her roles, such as in Eva Man alongside the intersexed Eva Robins, played upon this aspect of her biography others, including this one, do not. (Robins may be most familiar to from his role as the woman in the red shoes in Tenebrae's flashback scenes.)

The Nude Princess is Miriam Zamota, a US-born former model with a law degree, who has since married Kaboto, the ruler of the African country of Taslamia. She is sent by her husband as the head of a trade delegation to Milan, Italy, with the job of negotiating Italian industrialists' construction of various public works and infrastructural projects in Taslamia.

One of the Italian trade delegates meets Miriam

The first complication is that the Italians do not intend to play fair: Rather than submitting separate tenders, they agree to collude and divide up the commissions between them. The second is the presence of an industrial spy Gladys, played by Tina Aumont. The third is the desire of scandal sheet journalist Marco, played by Luigi Pistilli, to catch Zamota in a compromising position. The fourth is the presence of protesters against Kaboto's regime, along with dissidents and refugees from it.

Some of these complications prove more easily resolved than others -- the Italian businessmen and the industrial spy are smitten by Zamota's beauty. Others prove more complicated, notably Zamota's relations with her countryfolk. For when Zamota is taken to a 'primitive'/'native' religious ceremony/drug party/orgy she has a flashback to a traumatic incident, revealing a previously unknown (or repressed) facet to her relationship with Kaboto. Here, in the Germaine Greer influenced feminist discourse then current she remarks “I’m a female eunuch”

One of the ceremony/party/orgy participants

Writer/director Cesare Canevari has a filmography that can best be described as unusual. Over the course of 20 years he directed nine features, five of which I have now seen: A Hyena in a Strongbox; Matalo!; I, Emmanuelle; this, and The Gestapo's Last Orgy. The main characteristics of these are that they fit into identifiable genres or filone -- Hyena is a crime thriller with Gothic overtones -- but don't always quite play as you would expect -- Matalo! is a Western, but one that seems to dispense with the main antagonist too early on, then presents some Antonioni-esque “dead time” in a deserted town, not to mention a boomerang throwing protagonist.

The one with most in common with The Nude Princess is probably the following year's Nazisadism entry. Both are unsurprisingly exploitative and sleazy, with extensive nudity and softcore sex, yet also have a degree of socio-political comment and artistry to them.

The main theme is the legacies of colonialism, both for the European and the African. Kaboto professes that the only white man he respects is Adolf Hitler, while his dictatorship is presented as a positive, Westernising force in the promotional film shown.

Mocking the neo-colonialist?

The main method, as expressed by this film within the film and Pistilli's occupation, is to constantly make us aware of the mediated nature of the images presented. For elsewhere the image is rarely stable, with Canevari liking to zoom in and out, move the camera independently of the characters, and rapidly cross-cutting between seemingly unconnected scenes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's tiresome. A nice touch is when he presents us with a line of four character's faces, racking focus to bring three of them into sharp relief, one after the other.

In sum, one of those films that's not quite art, but not quite trash either. Or, to put it another way, the kind of film I tend to like...

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