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.
Peter Strickland’s follow-up to the similarly cryptic Berbarian Sound Studio feels like a homage to 1970’s erotica, yet packs considerably more punch that the genre it takes its visual cues from- there’s little or no sex here, but the whole enterprise is drenched in a steamy, near fetid sense of anticipation. Chiara d’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen play two women locked in a sadomasochistic relationship, with only the appearance of a few confused neighbours and a comely bed-salesman to disturb the fun and games, which involves castigating each other for poorly folding underwear, locking each other up in wooden bedframes and being ‘human toilets’ for each other. Surreal touches, like the use of dummies to simulate extras, suggest a serious pastiche rather than a parody and point to non-literal meanings; The Duke of Burgundy’s title comes from a rare butterfly, never glimpsed in the film, and Strickland’s film is a rare erotic drama that sticks to its task with commendable brio.