Sunday 27 April 2008

La Pretora / My Sister in Law

There are two reasons why this is the best of Edwige Fenech’s comedies. The first, and most obvious, is that there’s more of her on display than in any of the others. The second, is that by playing a dual role of two ill-matched identical sisters she also gets a chance to show more of her comedic talents than would otherwise be the case.

The story is simple: Viola is the young, ambitious and, above all, beyond reproach prosecutor in a provincial Italian town. Rosa is her identical sister.



Con-artist Esposito, the victim of one of Viola’s most recent judgement, meets and beds Rosa, and decides to extract his revenge; one of the film’s weak points in this regard is that Rosa’s character is not terribly well developed, in that we don’t really know why she has it in for her sister, beyond hints of resentment at their different upbringings and life chances. (Though she plays dumb, there’s the definite sense that Rosa is far smarter than she’s letting on; certainly she’s far smarter than the men around her, though as ever in the world of Italian sex comedy that doesn't necessarily say terribly much...)

Fulci's cameo

Rosa impersonates her sister and take bribes from some local businessmen. Viola guesses that something is up, causing her fiancé Alteri to go see Rosa in an attempt to get her to see the error of her ways, only to easily succumb to her seductive wiles.

Rosa as Biancaneve

Trivia fans may care to note that the evil queen is played by Marina Frajese

Next Rosa appears in a pornographic fumetti strip as Biancaneve, copies of which are distributed to the public during an obscenity case Viola is presiding over in her other capacity as film censor for the town. (An earlier scene featuring the unseen but heard film’s screening is another highlight, with what seems like the entirety of the town’s respectable male population sneaking into the projection booth to see all the good bits before they are cut out.)

The fumetti image

Then Rosa seduces Viola’s long besotted assistant, resulting in some compromising sex in the office photographs courtesy of Esposito and his lawyer Bortolon that soon find their way into the chief prosecutor’s hands.

Rosa or Viola?

Rosa or Viola – and yet another forbidden photo of a lady above suspicion...

Mercifully for Viola a small giallo-esque detail in one of the images provides the opportunity to extricate herself from the messy situation and turn the tables on Esposito and company…

Though Rosa and Viola are given different dubbing voices they aren’t really necessary to disambiguate the characters, with their facial expressions, movements and demeanours enough if the viewer is paying sufficient attention – which, given that the initial distinction between them might well be summed up as close to ‘one wears clothes, the other doesn’t,’ can probably be more or less assumed anyway when the target vernacular audience is concerned…

The other reason for the device, besides its inherent comedic contribution, becomes clearer later on, however, as the difference between the characters and their voices is then confused just at the point when we – and our on screen counterparts – start to think we have a handle on who is who.

At first glance Lucio Fulci’s contribution to the film is somewhat limited, with the direction functional, establishing and breaking up each scene in an anonymous, classical, degree zero style. Paradoxically, however, the lack of Fulci’s usual signatures – zooms, close-ups of eyes, rack focus between planes of action – arguably becomes a signifier of another characteristic of his work, namely his sheer professionalism. One suspects he understood that this was a Fenech vehicle (the end credits include her shoe and lingerie suppliers, to whom credit must go) and as a director for hire willingly subordinated his contributions to hers, whilst also enjoying the opportunity to again aim some well-placed jabs at the powers that be. (Fulci once remarked that censors should be shot in the head; the problem was that their brains were obviously such small targets…)

I suspect that there was also a fair bit of wordplay that I didn’t quite get, though references to sodomy and fellatio prove easy enough to decipher even with my rather limited knowledge of Italian…

Recommended for fans of Fenech and Fulci alike.


Tenebrous Kate said...

I love the detail you've included about the shoe and lingerie credits for this film! It sounds as though the producers knew which side their bread was buttered on.

So--enquiring minds want to know: What designers *were* they?

[sorry if this posts twice--I'm at war with the word verification jobby...]

K H Brown said...

Her bags and cases were by Fendi, shoes by Casuccio and Scalera and lingerie by Paoletti.