di Laura Rossi
Through a decidedly polymorphic film, the Italian director Piero Schivazappa celebrates the anxieties of women depicting a surreal parable on the interplay of sexes, all immersed inside a movie where every frame stands alone as one perfect curated photography, it is like if Giuseppe Capogrossi paintings would become interiors and settings.
“The world will be populated only by women and when women all start learning how to reproduce only women, they will no longer need a man”
Femina Ridens is philosophical, psychoanalytical (a smooth reference to the Freudian toothed vagina), mystical, and a brilliant social commentary movie all spiced up with some soft porn in the 60s style.
The plot survives entirely on both protagonist’s dynamics, which are built on the emotional strain given by the personality of Dr. Sayer’s interpreted by Philippe Leroy, strongly influenced by the “philosophies of the existential crisis” of the early twentieth century. The protagonist is opposed to the, initially, meticulous and excessively modest character of Maria (our Magdalene), interpreted by Dagmar Lassander, at the end, it takes little to understand her sanctified name. Sayer continuously analyses his own psyche, little by little he is able to recognize his own neurosis and becomes aware of the reality around him, and goes through a shift of personality in the middle of the plot. This main aspect of the construction of this character recalls the figure of the inept, which is constantly addressed in the novels by Italo Svevo. There is an expectation of a chaotic and dreary ending emphasized by the constant introspective treatment of his agonies, which are all encouraged by Maria, who uses purely her seductive power to apply reverse psychology on a vulnerable man.
The experience of watching this movie can (and must) feel hyperbolic and extremely ruthless to the viewer, that is because the characters are only abstract personifications of their gender, there is no outside frame or a deeper insight into their personalities, their actions in the film are to be looked through as exaggerated metaphors. The scenes can be read as an entirely cyclic plot, given by the circular white room where Maria closes as a final scene and by the constant twist of power the male-female figures address upon each other all-round history, all of it marked by the two protagonists impressionistic monologues throughout the movie. This regards the allegory that Schivazappa seemed to portray, a critical review on both sexes, the unequal power exchange between them coated with an aspect that clearly arises a reassuring feminine fantasy, the idea of taming a wild man and bringing out his best. The reference that Dr. Sayer makes regarding the sex of scorpions, where the female eats the male after the act, is a metaphor that leads to understanding the dynamics of the protagonists relationship. Sayer has this fear perpetuating his mind but slowly he starts to loose awareness that the female will seduce, manipulate, dominate and eat him. The protagonists continuously oscillate between the Apollonian (balanced, measured, composed) and the Dionysian (sensual abandonment, loss of control, lack of balance) in a game of subversion of roles, especially for Dr. Sayer, since Maria is fully aware of the role she is playing and this is part of her game.
As in the works of Niki de Saint Phalle, in which the artist tries to explore the female representation, Schivazzapa represents a female who is, at first sight, submissive, but already in the condition of victim demonstrates a certain type of superiority that is so much feared by Dr. Sayer. The toothed vagina, the work of Jean Tinguely, Niki de Saint Phalle and Per Olof Ultvedt, collects the explicit sexual meaning of the movie an it becomes the ultimate metaphor for the play of power between the sexes. Dr. sayer walks towards his own redemption, his own annulment, that is, after undergoing the satisfaction of dominating a woman with his manhood and manly charm, he will finally discover that he likes a certain woman in a new and particular way and that she will become the woman of his life, and this will be his end.
Maria’s white room, where she seats in a meditative pose while her butler shows respect to the superior female existence.