Friday, 7 March 2014

Friday Night Film: La Donna Scimmia

‘The Ape Woman’ is the poignant story of Maria, a woman born with an excess of body hair who ends up working in a convent, far away from the stares and jibes of the general population. A travelling salesman spies her and realises that there is money to be made in exploiting her unique characteristics and, after marrying her (at the nuns insistence) sets her up in a jungle themed side show where she makes out that she is a primitive monkey woman from darkest Africa.

Ferreri usually cameos in his own films. He's the one with the chin strap beard.



The happiest day of her life...

In fact, she is a sensitive, kind woman who is capable of enormous love and tenderness and, hairy or not, she’s very sexy. Her husband Antonio, however, is only interested in her commercial prospects and treats her appallingly, at one point trying to sell her virginity to a rich man with an interest in bestiality. When the increasingly disgruntled Maria goes on strike, Antonio is forced to be kinder to her and, at her insistence, they start a relationship that goes beyond a business partnership and marriage of convenience. Unfortunately, against Doctor’s orders, Maria becomes pregnant and she and her baby die in childbirth. Antonio is heartbroken and, when he finds out that her mummified remains are on display in a museum, he fights to get her body back – so he can exhibit it himself in a travelling sideshow.

Based on a real life story from the 19th century, ‘The Ape Woman’ is both funny and terribly sad, and the relationship between Maria and Antonio (Ugo Tognazzi) is beautifully and realistically drawn. Although there is no doubt that, eventually, Antonio comes to love Maria (and who can blame him, she’s gorgeous) he never diverts from his primary instinct – to make money out of her unique appearance – and, because Maria loves him more than she loves herself, she is prepared to do more or less anything to make him happy, including stripping and making chimp noises while dressed as a lady Tarzan.

Subtly directed, wonderfully acted, gorgeously black and white, ‘The Ape Woman’ is an unusual film with an unusual subject – perfect Friday night viewing

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