Jus primae noctis

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In Jus primae noctis (Droit de seigneur)  Pasquale Festa Campanile dives into the decamerotic, a very popular genre in 1972, shortly after the success of  The Decameron (1970) by Pier Paolo Pasolini.  It was not the only one, because in 1973 he directed La Calandria, with Lando Buzzanca and Salvo Randone. Festa Capanile was almost a precursor to the genre with his movie The chastity belt  (1967), filmed on foot of the success of Brancaleone’s Army (1966) by Mario Monicelli. The director brings to the screen a storyline by Ugo Liberatore, with the collaboration of Luigi Malerba and Ottavio Jemma, and elegantly directs a high decamerotic movie, where he does not limit itself to repeating a series of erotic situations laced with adultery, quips and jokes.

A cast of well trained actors, a perfect historical recreation and a fun soundtrack by Riz Ortolani complete the picture. Lando Buzzanca is Ariberto from Ficulle, who becomes the Lord of a small feud (Partanna) thanks to his marriage with the truly ugly Matilda from Montefiascone (Colosimo), and who exercises his power with arrogance and despotism. He imposes absurd fees and taxes, always devises new privileges to pay an army of German mercenaries led by a homosexual commander.  In his employ there is also an ugly monk (Andreasi) who dishes out pardons, sacraments and indulgences for a fair remuneration. Among the many abuses, there is the Droit de seigneur which is exercised on vassal married couples, unless the husband fails to pay the equivalent in an amount of money established by the Lord.

The subjects are rather stupid but Ariberto meets a smart rival like Gandolfo (Montagnani) who makes fun of him and ends up spearheading the revolt of the downtrodden against their despotic master. The story is all based on the rivalry between Ariberto and Gandolfo and highlights the unusual comic pairing of Buzzanca – Montagnani. Veneranda (Tolo) is Gandolfo’s beautiful partner, whom Ariberto submits to the Droit de seigneur in order to humiliate his opponent, but in the final sequence we see the people’s revenge on the Lord’s second wife (Galleani) who is deflowered by as many as twelve people. Ariberto is abandoned on the back of a donkey, he meets the Pope (Stoppa) while he is returning to Rome and runs a crazy race with the Antipope to get to the papal throne first.

The film has a PG 14 rating because there are several nude scenes, although never full nudes. It is an amusing, fast-paced farce set in the Middle Ages and tries to make a critical discourse on power. Great box-office results, also because the genre is fashionable and is a prelude to the birth of the sexy contemporary setting comedy. The actors are very good, above all Renzo Montagnani in the role of a villain who struggles against power. But Lando Buzzanca is also impressive as the despotic Lord. Paolo Stoppa plays the rude, ignorant Roman dialect-speaking pope. Felice Andreasi plays the money-loving friar, grovelling to the rich and powerful.

Toni Ucci plays the country bumpking who whiles away the hours by stealing chickens, saying : “Everything can be remedied except a pain in the ass!” Marilu Tolo, a brunette with blue eyes, has great personality, and plays a couple of scenes where we see her naked and appears unperturbed by it. The female cast is interesting, the interpreters are not yet famous but their names will be important in the erotic comedy and genre films:  Ely Galleani, Ria De Simone, Enrica Bonaccorti (naked in the droit de seigneur scene, in bed with the Lord).
The exterior scenes of the film are shot outside Caetani di Sermoneta Castle, near Latina, while the waterfall scene, where Marilu Tolo is bathing naked, is shot at the waterfalls of  Mola di Formello, near Parco Veio in Formello (Rome). In two movies “The Great Duel”  (Giancarlo Santi, 1972) and in “Monstrously prohibited Dreams” (Neri Parenti, who in this film is the Production Secretary, 1982) we can see the waterfalls of Formello in the foreground.  A feature of the film is that the language used is a sort of Italian invented by the ancient writers, halfway between Latin and the vernacular language in Boccaccio’s  Decameron.
There are many memorable sequences:  piss instead of wine, the pillory, the public ridicule with Montagnani dancing on hot plates, Miss Tolo walking topless obeying to an order of the Lord, the chicken pecking corn from Montagnani’s ass, Buzzanca making love with thirty women consecutively to demonstrate his prowess, Montagnani‘s fake marriage with a disguised man, Buzzanca’s friend castrated by a dog bite, the two rivals duelling with clubs, the race of the papal chariots with Buzzanca holding on to both of them and running towards Rome. The more obvious defects are the excessive use of the zoom (which was all the rage) and some strange camera movements of the camera from one character to another. Editing is not very tight, photography changes colour from one scene to another, as if the scenes were shot at different times and the sequences inserted in the editing room. Jus Primae Noctis is still a decamerotic written with passion, with a real and solid script, well above the average for the period.

Critical Review. Paolo Mereghetti (two stars): “Hearty laughter is balanced by high ambitions, almost as a power apology. Moderate pace and funny cast, especially Montagnani playing the part of a class-conscious Bertoldo, and Stoppa  playing the role of a Roman Pope which is much heavier than the Pius VII of “Il Marchese del Grillo”. Amazing jingles by Riz Ortolani.” Morando Morandini doesn’t mention it, while Pino Farinotti confirms the two stars without providing a critical judgment. Davinotti Online:  “A decamerotic of  a certain taste, enhanced by a good performance by the two main characters, less over the top than usual and struggling with a script that actually exists.”

Translation by Amneris Di Cesare (edited by Ester Tossi)

Directed by: Pasquale Festa Campanile. Subject : Ugo Liberatore. Screenplay: Luigi Malerba, Ottavio Jemma, Pasquale Festa Campanile.  Editing: Nino Baragli. Photography. Silvano Ippoliti. Set Design and Costumes: Ezio Altieri. Manufacturer: Silvio Clementelli. Music: Riz Ortolani. Production Organization: George Adriani. Production Secretary: Neri Parenti. Production: Clesi Film Festival, Verona Production. Assistant Director: Marcello Crescenzi. Machine Operator: Enrico Sasso. Weapons Master: Remo De Angelis. Colour: Spes (dir. E. Catalucci ). Negatives: Eastmancolor . Soundstages: De Paolis . Length: 100 ‘. Genre: Comedy (decamerotic). Cast: Lando Buzzanca , Renzo Montagnani , Marilù Tolo, Felice Andreasi , Roberto Antonelli, Giancarlo Cobelli , Ely Galleani Franco Latini, Guido Lollobrigida, Gino Pernice, Alberto Sorrentino, Guglielmo Spoletini, Toni Ucci , Paolo Stoppa , Sergio Ammirata, Luigi Basagaluppi, Enrica Bonaccorti, Bruno Boschetti, Clara Colosimo, Ria De Simone, Gianni Magni, Loredana Martinez, Franco Pesce, Elena Puatto, Enzo Robutti, Bruno Vaerini.

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Gordiano Lupi
Gordiano Lupi (Piombino, 1960). Editorial manager of Edizioni Il Foglio, he contributes to Turin’s newspaper La Stampa. He translated the novels of the Cuban author Torreguitart Ruiz and published a number of books on Cuba, cinema, and many other topics. See the full list at www.infol.it/lupi. He participated in some TV broadcasts such as Corrado Augias’s Cominciamo bene le storie, Luca Giurato’s Uno Mattina, Odeon TV series on the Italian serial killers, Rete Quattro La Commedia all’italiana, Monica Maggioni’s Speciale TG1 on Cuba and Yoani Sánchez, Dove TV series on Cuba. He guested on some Italian and Swiss radio broadcasts for his books and comments on the Cuban culture. In 2012 he published a long chapter in El otro paredon, an essay on the Cuban situation, written with four authors of the Cuban exile, and issued in the USA with English and Spanish versions. His books received a large number of reviews and mentions. See the full list at www.infol.it/lupi. E-mail address: lupi@infol.it.