Lolita Goes Italian in Sexual Early-1970’s Potboiler



There are quite a few things off in filmmaker Fernando Di Leo’s 1973 lusty potboiler, Seduction. Not the least of which are clothes.

An erotic drama/romance-gone-wrong as presented by Italian crime director Fernando Di Leo and his team of screenwriters (both male and female), Seduction (or, la Seduzione in its native Italian, if one prefers) casts about physical desire, sympathy and regret in equal measure. It’s adapted from a more sprawling and racier novel by Encole Patti. Centering on a relationship between an older man and an inappropriately younger girl, the whole thing constantly, even distractingly, evokes a certain far more widely known novel by Vladimir Nabokov, and the adaptations it inspired. Yet, any intended relatability with the central male character – a mixed-up philanderer who falls in love too easily – is intended as implicit, if at all.

Time, place and social mores are glaringly evident here. It takes place in its contemporary era, the early 1970s, as evidenced in everything from the fashions to the decor. The setting is Catania, in Sicily. The mindset of the film is that ever-familiar, problematic grapple of processing guilty sexual dalliance via the male gaze.

At its heart, Seduction is guilty of the same sins of so many “Lolita-complex” movies: Fixating on the nubile girls in question while also shaming us for looking.

Point of order, there is more than one specific seduction in Seduction. The story begins with middle-aged dullard Giuseppe (Maurice Ronet, playing every bit the stale shut-in) returning from Paris to Catania in order to get his deceased father’s affairs in order. But from the outset, it’s clear that an affair of a different type is his true priority. The sort-of Clare Quilty in his life, Alfredo (Pino Caruso), urges him on, though it becomes increasingly clear that he himself is merely a boastful fool on such matters.

He immediately tracks down his old flame, Caterina (Lisa Gastoni, in the true memorable performance of the film), now a widowed mother of teenage daughter, Graziella (Jenny Tamburi, aloof yet spritely; and later, appropriately moody). Though both Giuseppe and Caterina quickly become swept up with one another, a switch is quickly thrown in Graziella, moving her to begin seducing her mother’s new lover.

Whether allowing Giuseppe a forbidden glimpse of herself or vacuuming in front of him while wearing a loose fitting minidress, one can understand his temptations. One thing that Seduction portrays that many other such films opt to plow over is the slow-boiling, inching way that these dalliances may come about. She lays on the couch next him to read. His arm surreptitiously lands on her knee. She straightens her leg, allowing gravity to inch him ever closer. And on it goes, for minutes.

To call these circumstances uncomfortable viewing is an understatement: Graziella, despite her obviously mature physicality, is said to be only fifteen years old. Nonetheless, things secretly escalate. Di Leo clearly intends us to continue to sympathize with Giuseppe, his predicament being what it is. …Oh, whatever is a fella to do in such times??

Jenny Tamburi in SEDUCTION

When Graziella’s mother inevitably learns of what’s been going between her lover and her daughter, things go from horrible to lethal. Giuseppe, so caught up in only himself, has lost all sight of common decency. When he leaves to pursue yet a third affair with Graziella’s even more well endowed and experienced friend, Rosina (Barbara Marzano), it’s because he can’t take the iciness that’s overtaken the ladies’ home. The kind of final reel justice so common in both classic Hollywood crime films and Crown International schlock creeps in. The result of it all isn’t so much “Hello, nurse!” as “Call a nurse!”

In 1966, not even a decade prior, those bad boys of rock, The Rolling Stones, unleashed “Paint it, Black” onto the world. Although far younger at the time than Giuseppe, songwriters Mick Jagger and Keith Richards sang of wielding a greater sense of self control in this song, a hit that was by some considered one of their most aggressively “evil”:

No colors anymore, I want them to turn black / I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes / I have to turn my head until my darkness goes.

When The Rolling Stones know when to draw the line and you still don’t, you should know you’ve got issues.

That said, a few coats of paint, black or otherwise, would’ve been a welcome break to the continuous, almost oppressive palate of harvest gold and various yellows. It’s enough to make one wonder if the term “Giallo” – the Italian word for “yellow”, and subsequently the branding of an entire sub genre of lurid horror – is being intentionally evoked. While the answer is quite likely a resounding “no”, Seduction does share the looming sense of dread so common in many Giallo films of the time.

There’s little if anything subtle or elegant about Seduction. It’s not particularly pleasing to look at, and its character beats tend to punch viewers in the face. Despite these factors, it does succeed at being sexy, if only ugly-sexy. That is not a comment on anyone’s physical appearance, but rather in regard to the atmosphere, attitudes and action of the film.

The new Blu-Ray from Italian import Raro Video is up to the label’s usual standards of quality, boasting a fine if slightly faded image quality, good audio and subtitling. There is also a thirty-minute featurette on the film, and a full color essay booklet. The overly racy cover image (featuring an obscured topless Barbara Marzano) arrives within an outer slipcase displaying the far more subdued original poster art, featuring Lisa Gastoni with a gun.

When The Rolling Stones know when to draw the line and you still don’t, you should know you’ve got issues.

At its heart, Seduction is guilty of the same sins of so many “Lolita-complex” movies, be they American Beauty, Oldboy, or Insiang: Fixating on the nubile girls in question while also shaming us for looking. It’s an understandably tough directorial line to walk in presenting such a universal yet precarious topic of why older men are drawn to younger girls, and why the younger girls might play along. Rare are the filmmakers who realize some kind of balance in the matter. (Stanley Kubrick, 1962’s Lolita; Sophia Coppola, Lost in Translation; Lone Scherfig, An Education.)

Seduction boils in its pot all the while, delivering some memorable moments and decent performances, particularly on the part of Gastoni. But ultimately, many will be begging for the characters to just call the whole thing off.


The images and promotional material used in the review are present only as a reference to the film and are not meant to reflect the actual image quality or content of the Blu-ray.