Thrill-seekers need not apply to Tinto Brass’s adaptation of Junichiro Tanizaki’s novel Kagi, which he’s revised in terms of setting and time. The place is Venice, and the time is the rise of Fascism in Italy under Il Duce; as always with Brass, the text is very much directed towards lust, but it’s remarkable how little sex there is in The Key. Frank Finlay plays older man Nino who has lost the spark of his relationship with Theresa (Stefania Sandrelli), but writing their desires in a locked diary offers a route towards fulfilment, or possibly towards death. With an Ennio Morricone score, production values are high, and Finlay gives a game performance. The Key probably doesn’t offer enough flesh to satisfy, but it’s remarkably cerebral for a story intended to get the pulses racing, and the ending is remarkably bleak. With Nico photographing his wife while asleep, then asking a friend to develop them, there’s some kind of consideration of the function of the voyeur here, and the political trappings suggest that Brass is aiming for a Last Tango In Paris/The Night Porter level of rigour. The Key has been largely forgotten since it appeared in 1983; a fresh looking print on Amazon may well frustrate those expecting the lewdness of Brass’s later work, but there’s something more sophisticated than might be expected here. This 2019 version also appears to be cut; understandable in 1983, less comprehensible now; anyone who clicks on a Tinto Brass film surely deserves all they get.
Every review of a Woody Allen film starts with a long précis of the writer/director’s career to date. Perhaps it’s understandable, since it’s often hard to see his films as individual pieces, and too easy to place them on a chart of the advance or decline of his storytelling. Café Society is a bitter-sweet romance which ably reteams Kristen Stewart and Jessie Eisenberg, the Hepburn and Tracey of the stoner generation from Adventureland and American Ultra, and builds around them a tragic-comic narrative in a F Scott Fitzgerald style. It’s a boy-meets-girl story in 1930’s Hollywood, with a neurotic anti-hero who briefly gets the girl only to see their relationship drift apart. With luminous leads and photography, Café Society is a strong and persuasive meditation of the fragility of love, and might just have some appeal to those unfamiliar with Allen’s back catalogue.