Monday, July 7, 2014

Avere vent'anni (1978)

... aka: Being Twenty
... aka: To Be Twenty
... aka: Twenty Years Old

Directed by:
Fernando Di Leo

"I was 20. No one can ever tell me it was the best time of our lives." ~ Paul Nizan, French philosopher and writer

I sought this out because for a long time it was listed as a horror film on IMDb. It's really not, but does boast a super shocker of an ending right out of Last House on the Left, so I guess in that regard it qualifies. In either case, this is much better than the other films I've seen from director Di Leo, who also made the senseless sexed-up giallo SLAUGHTER HOTEL (1971) with Klaus Kinski and Rosalba Neri and the Last House-inspired 'terror' flick VACATION FOR A MASSACRE (1980) with Joe Dallesandro. Doe-eyed, pouty blonde Lia (Gloria Guida) meets hot blooded brunette Tina (Lilli Carati) on the beach and the two instantly hit it off. After all, they're both young, hot and pissed off... and neither has any clue what to do with themselves. Both girls are like many other young adults their age; first and foremost, life is about having fun. They're rebellious, carefree, aimless and not quite ready to completely grow up yet. They are, however, both fully aware of their attractiveness and know just how to use it to get their way. Clad in short shorts and flimsy tops minus a bra and without a dime to their name, the two young ladies hit the road looking for a lift. They pass on a ride and money from a moralizing lesbian in a sports car who tells them that "whores have more tact" than they do. Hungry, they decide to shoplift dinner from a supermarket. They also use their feminine wiles to get free coffee and offer an old man a blow job for a pack of Marlboro's. With the price of cigarettes these days, that's a bargain.

Lia knows of a group living commune called Piazza Dante where they can stay for awhile. An old lady tells them it's full of "queers, whores and druggies," but that does not deter them. Upon arriving, they meet the commune's owner Nazariota (Vittorio Caprioli), who's broke and wants the girls to pay their due by "communicating" with the men there. Tina is just fine with that arrangement. Unfortunately, most of the men there stink and stay zonked out most of the time from all the drugs they do. One tells her "Sex is for people who don't know how to love." Tina eventually finds a guy she's interested in; Rico (Ray Lovelock), who's also a druggie and drop out but more her type so she's willing to work with him. Also living there are Patrizia (Lucio Fulci regular Daniela Doria), a short-haired feminist mother of triplets, and Arguinas (Leopoldo Mastelloni), a pacifist in white face paint who supposedly hasn't moved from his meditative position in three months and keeps talking about the "Celestial Father." Though these people seem strange at first, you actually begin to sort of like them, especially when the police start hassling the group.

A documentary filmmaker shows up wanting to make "an analytical film on human relationships" and interviews the girls. Tina reveals that all her parents cared about was money and her maintaining her virginity until marriage, so she rebelled. Lia - who's quieter and more introspective than her outspoken friend - was raised in an orphanage run by unloving nuns and then was forced to become a housekeeper whose spinster boss made her have sex with her. The girls attempt to go straight by becoming door-to-door encyclopedia salesladies, which leads to numerous encounters with more colorful and / or lonely people. Tina starts masturbating for a professor and acts aroused when he mentions the world "culture" just to move some books, Lia turns down the advances of a rich lesbian when she tries to pay her for sex and both ladies decide to cheer up a lonely old widower the best way they know how. All things considered, things seem to be going alright... until police raid the commune and the two girls are ordered to leave Rome. If they don't return to their home towns by midnight the following day, they'll be put in jail.

Having no other real choice, Lia and Tina then hit the road and stop by a country restaurant for a bite to eat. There, they suggestively dance to some music from a jukebox... and inadvertently attract the attention of a dozen dangerous goons in the process. Everything leads up to a truly shocking finale telling the grim fate of the two girls, which is made all the more jarring because up until then we've just been following along with their (mostly) harmless and sometimes comical misadventures. Oddly, the much-lower-budgeted and less skillfully made American production The Young Cycle Girls (1978) from the same year also featured young women on the road trying to learn about life and love and all that and opted for the same style of ending. One wonders what the "message" of these two films may be. Is it that women should be punished for being independent, strong-willed or liberated, or is it that many men really, really resent women who are independent, strong-willed and liberated? Either way, the girls in both films pay the ultimate price in their quest for self-discovery at the hands of men who don't like their "teasing."

Guida and Carati were both mainstays of 70s and 80s soft-core and exploitation flicks and amassed dozens of credits apiece. Both look great in and out of their skimpy clothes and are featured in a number of sexy scenes (including a mild lesbian one with each other), but this movie goes beyond your usual sex flick. With its strong counter-culture youth rebellion mindset, I can even dub it 'The 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' of 70s sexploitation' whilst almost keeping a straight face. Most of the sex and nude scenes are at least plausibly worked in to the plot, there's a lot of sociopolitical commentary, name dropping of various famous politicians, philosophers and artists and much mention of the gender gap and the war of the sexes. At one point, three women even read from Valerie Solanas' deranged feminist ranting, "Scum Manifesto." The free-spirited weirdos, pacifists, whores, artists, runaways and druggies at the commune are portrayed as dancing to the beat of their own drummer only to have their party crashed by figures of authority (the police) and power (the gang). There's enough here for this to work on multiple levels, and with perhaps even multiple interpretations depending on the viewer.

Avere vent'anni first saw light on home video in the U.S. on the Private Screenings label; an outfit that specialized in erotica but most especially in imported Euro smut. Their release of the film (under the title To Be Twenty) is, as per their usual, cut, has terrible English-language dubbing, features a model on the box who is not in the film and has a new music score. In 2011, Raro Video released a decent 2 disc version of the film containing both the cut and uncut versions and in its original Italian language with English sub options.

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