Battle of the sexes dressed in Sixties’ Groove, “Femina ridens” [1969 Italy]

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Contrary to critics who enthusiastically slap Piero Schivazappa’s “Femina ridens” [Eng. Title: The Laughing Woman] with the ‘sexploitation’ label, it is actually a stylish erotic thriller, with some genuine interest in discussing feminism. The unfortunate tag is perhaps largely to do with Radley Metzger picking up the film for distribution in the US.

However, let’s get this clear – it is not a ground-breaking film that aspires to new heights of informed debate, nor technical finesse, even if some of its visuals and atmosphere are quite sumptuous – it is a rather mainstream, pop-art inspired piece of erotica with limited scope. But, it is also about feminine desire as much as it is about male fantasy – trying to articulate the fact that a woman might also find the body of a handsome male sexually attractive, and an acknowledgement of changing mores within society of the time.

Besides, it is gloriously kitsch in terms of set design, sound track, and costumes. To top it all, you have the ravishingly beautiful Dagmar Lassander in the prime of her youth, radiating the wanton but latent sexuality of her character Maria, a journalist researching for an article about male sterilisation. During the course of the film, we see her metamorphose from a ‘geeky’ academic to a seductive temptress, and the transformation, though gradual, is as startling as it is enchanting. Hoping to work on the article over a weekend, she requests Dr. Sayer (a very ‘Roman’ Philippe Leroy who would make a great Caesar), a wealthy philanthropist, for some related files that he keeps at home. Once there, she’s drugged and kidnapped to his secluded country home, a place for indulgence in his fetishes that border on BDSM.

Sayer claims to have subjected many a victim to his masochistic desires, killing them all at the moment of orgasm. An initially terrified Maria however reacts quite differently upon seeing his toned body next to her, and becomes a willing participant in his endeavour – she is as turned on by him as he is through his enslavement. Is she really as innocent as she seems, or are they actually peas from the same pod? A battle of wits ensues between the two that will certainly draw Sayer out of his comfort zone..

It’s because of the film’s ridiculous ‘X’ certification at the time of release, that it alienated a wider audience, and it’s the absence of gratuitous nudity that put off the ‘niche’ crowd. The film has become largely forgotten, which is a shame, because it has more class and nuance than many ‘respectable’ offerings today. It is well-made, groovy, and sexy, all in the best possible taste – a delicious, albeit mildly spicy fare in keeping with the swinging sixties. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Dagmar Lassander and Philippe Leroy
The highlight of the film, most definitely, is the incredibly sexy and iconic sequence halfway from Dagmar Lassander, when she seductively grooves to radio music, dressed in nothing but surgical gauze – she had to after all improvise – Sayer had taken away her only clothing, as punishment for failing to win him over. There are other instances of brief and concealed nudity from the same beauty, but what it couldn’t achieve through gratuitousness, it certainly makes for in unbridled sensuality – some scenes are simply amazing the way they work. There is also nudity from Phlippe Leroy, who becomes an irresistible object of fascination for Maria, and their chemistry is plain to see..!

Dagmar Lassander and Philippe Leroy nude in Femina ridens

Dagmar Lassander gets in the groove with Philippe Leroy in the stylish Italian psychedelic erotic thriller “Femina Ridens” aka “The Laughing Woman”.



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