Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Key (4 Stars)

This is a film made by Tinto Brass in 1983. It takes place in Venice in 1940, a very beautiful city at a very ugly time. To be precise, the film begins on December 31st, 1939 and ends on June 10th, 1940, the day when Italy entered World War Two by declaring war on Great Britain.

The film deals with a wealthy family. John Rolfe is an English art professor who has lived in Venice for most of his adult life. He tops up his income from the university by being paid to validate fake paintings as authentic. His wife Teresa owns a small hotel. His daughter Lisa is engaged to a Bulgarian called Laszlo who imports foreign goods. Despite the collapse of society around them, the family members are only interested in their own affairs.

John and Teresa have been married for 20 years and are still happy together. Teresa is satisfied with the marriage, emotionally and physically, but John wants more excitement. He knows his wife is very prude, so he's scared of telling her what he wants her to do. He keeps a diary locked in his desk. He decides to write down his sexual fantasies, and he leaves the key for Teresa to find. Yes, that's the key in the title. He knows her well. As soon as she finds the key she opens the desk and reads everything. But what has he written? John has written that he fantasises about his wife having an affair with their daughter's fiancé Laszlo. Wow! What a weird thing for him to want. At first Teresa is hesitant, she's been faithful to her husband all the time they were together, but she eventually seduces Laszlo and an affair begins.

The problem is that Teresa has to let her husband know about the affair. There's an easy solution. She begins to write a diary as well, giving details of her affair, which she hides in a place where she expects her husband to find it. Every day they read one another's diaries but never speak openly about what is happening.

In many ways this is a typical film for the Italian director, Tinto Brass. He's obsessed with marital infidelity, claiming that it's necessary to keep marriages intact. Usually he tells the story from the woman's point of view, i.e. a woman wanting to have an affair despite resistance from her husband. In "The Key" the man is the active agent, pushing his wife into an affair that she initially doesn't want.

I dislike Tinto Brass's morals and find his views on marital fidelity absurd, but I have to appreciate the film as a work of art.

The film's soundtrack is amazing, helping to elevate the sleazy plot to artistic heights. The soundtrack was written by Ennio Morricone, probably the greatest film music composer who has ever lived. He's written the music for over 500 films since 1959. He's best known for composing the music for spaghetti westerns, including the Clint Eastwood Dollars Trilogy, but he has composed music in many other styles, including the amazing piano compositions for "The Legend of 1900". In recent years he has worked with Quentin Tarantino on several of his films, including "Kill Bill" and "The Hateful Eight". He's now 87, but I hope he has many years of composing music ahead of him.

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