La Voglia Matta (1962), An Interesting Film I Discovered Last Night

I was hoping to finish my joint review of The Libertine and The Slave as the final blog post of the year, but unfortunately it’s gonna need some extra time in the oven. As compensation, these are some quick thoughts on a cool film I watched last night on a whim. Happy New Year, glad to see 2020 finally behind us!

I found out that Catherine Spaak and Ugo Tognazzi made a movie together called Crazy Desire (1962). Since they’re my current celebrity crushes, I decided I had to check it out. For those who don’t know, Spaak played the lead in The Libertine, and she’s spellbindingly beautiful in it. Tognazzi played The Catchman in Barbarella, and he is the most perfectly handsome, rugged older man archetype that was ever put on this Earth. A love story between the two of them is a one-in-a-million coincidence that seems divinely crafted specifically for my unique tastes.

Here’s the film in its entirety in case you want to go in fresh.

Basically, Tognazzi plays Antonio, a late-thirties Don Draper like businessman who makes a point to keep women at arm’s length. He makes crass observations about a friend’s significant other and when the other man gets offended, Antonio tells him “don’t think of women in a sentimental way; keep your relationships ‘horizontal.'” He then runs into a group of spring-breakers on a road trip, and through an implausible series of events, winds up at their beach house.

Antonio becomes smitten by the young Francesca, despite their age gap. While any sane person would have dismissed this fantasy and left the teens to their business, he sticks around solely in an attempt to win her favor. At first, he’s actually really debonair in his mannerisms and I could see why Francesca would be attracted to him. (I mean, a lot of women like older guys–and I think Ugo is hot even six years later in Barbarella.) But the longer Antonio stays, the less he can hide the wear and strain of his advanced age. He removes his shirt to show off his muscles, only for the girls to comment on his dad gut. He tries to outswim the younger guys and almost drowns in the process. He shaves his moustache to look younger but Francesca says he looks worse without it. The poor guy just keeps humiliating himself more and more in the pursuit of a dream we all know is impossible.

Based on his track record in the film, Antonio’s natural modus operandi is to put people down and assert himself as the most powerful man in the room. This will make his humbling all the more profound. For example, it took two viewings for me to realize just how mean Antonio was to Francesca during one of their first encounters. She offered him some pretty worldly advice on the beach: “there’s no use getting upset, if a problem can be fixed then do it, if it can’t then go to sleep.” But Antonio throws it back in her face: “what do you know, *at your age?*” Worst of all, he makes fun of the speech impediment Francesca admitted to him in confidence: “Sassalino de Sassari! Subsequently! Well, *mine* are perfect!” Antonio has a right to be upset with the group of teens who stole a bunch of his petrol and played sick to get out of trouble at his expense. But Antonio has no right to take that anger out on Francesca: if he had been paying attention he would remember that she was the only one of the gang trying to be helpful and kind from the beginning. Therefore, the nice thing for Antonio to do would be set an example as the older person and act like a gentleman. In most of his usual daily circumstances, Antonio gets away with throwing his weight around because of wealth, a prestigious job and a reputation that precedes him. But these teenagers neither know nor care who he is, and without those crutches, Antonio isn’t nearly as suave as he thought.

Through the course of the film, Antonio is completely and irreparably destroyed by a somewhat ditzy young woman. Francesca reduced him to a desperate and humbled wreck, without even trying to. I was expecting a heated love story between two of the most attractive people who ever lived. Instead I got a sort of parable about getting older, midlife crises and not being able to keep up with the next generation. I was a little disappointed but still appreciated the film for what it was. I think, because I’m almost exactly in the middle of Francesca and Antonio’s age gap, I can appreciate the tragedy of outgrowing your youth without losing sight of Francesca’s perspective. Francesca was disappointed that summer was ending. And that was always a really sad memory for me too, when I was growing up. But she does not yet know the suffering ahead of her, which Antonio is enduring. To be in the “autumn stage” of your life is exponential heartbreak, I’m sure. This movie has stuck with me very deeply since I first watched it, and reminds me that I’ll never be the young kid enjoying senior week or spring break with my teen/college aged pals ever again, and that’s enough to make me wistful and melancholic.

This is my favorite “random cutaway gag” in the film. What’s funny (or tragic, I guess) is that even though Antonio knew how crazy the idea of marrying Francesca was from the beginning, he still relentlessly pursued that fantasy until the bitter end. Infatuation is the most powerful force on Earth and while it’s often played for laughs or romance in popular media, it can be pretty scary when you stop and think about it.

That’s the plot, here are some details which particularly stood out to me:

  1. They left Francesca’s exact feelings towards Antonio ambiguous. I really believed she was into him in the first ten or fifteen minutes of their interactions. Then as the film goes on, it seems like she keeps giving him attention half out of pity and half out of bemusement. She flirts with other men in front of him and even votes Piero the handsomest after promising to vote for Antonio if he participated. In the end, she leaves the poor guy passed out on the beach without even saying goodbye. (Probably because she was increasingly uncomfortable with his infatuation and had been trying to make a graceful departure for half the day by that point.) To Antonio, she was a dream girl and an enduring symbol of youthful vivaciousness. To Francesca, he was a goofy older man who intrigued her for a few hours.

  2. I really enjoy stories about doomed romances, and obsessive infatuations which leave a person devastated. I think those are the most gripping narratives when they’re done well. I’d say this was a serviceable entry into that genre. In particular, I thought it was sweet how Antonio stood up for Francesca when one of his friends made rude comments about her body (a parallel to his own actions in the beginning of the film.) And when Antonio starts silently weeping over Francesca…that hit me in the feels. You don’t often see a grown man cry over a woman in the cinema.

  3. In some ways, this film was ahead of its time. The use of jump cuts to setup jokes is something we see everywhere nowadays, but was a novelty in 1962. There are several cutaway gags like when Antonio assures his mistress “I can get by with 4 hours of sleep” only to smash cut to him in the doctor’s office getting lectured for his lack of sleep. (That’s just one of many examples in the film.) There are several quick cuts to absurd fantasy sequences that feel almost like classic Family Guy. It’s also just a really funny movie in general. I usually don’t laugh at cinematic comedies (don’t ask me why) but this one got a few hearty chuckles out of me.

  4. The film does a great job making the audience initially resent Piero, Francesca’s boyfriend, since he’s Antonio’s main competitor for her affections. However, the script wisely avoids reducing him to a one-dimensional jerk as many a lesser film would have resorted to. Instead, he turns out to be the (relatively) responsible leader of the pack, chewing his peers out when they damage Antonio’s car, and standing up for one of the girls when she’s being picked on. He even offers his hand out to shake upon meeting Antonio, despite the older man refusing to ackowledge this. While Antonio would never admit it, Piero’s a worthy companion for Francesca and seems to keep her balanced. And, considering this random 40 year old man has been trying to put the moves on his girlfriend all day, his occasional standoffishness towards our hero is more than understandable. The only real antagonist here is the cruel passage of time.

9 Comments

  1. This is a sweet film which I’ve always enjoyed. I’m eternally grateful to the youtube channel ‘ Film&Clips ‘ for sponsoring it back in 2019 — n.b., please note that ‘ La Voglia Matta ‘ ( aka ‘ Crazy Desire ‘ ) is listed twice, but only the 2019 upload ( correct term ? ) has the regular English-translation subtitles ( the other one hasn’t ) . I try to watch it at least once every 6 months or so — Catherine has a certain, special spaak about her.

    There is something special about the Italian, French and British films from the ’60s, a certain je ne sais quoi about them. They’re gear ! I recommend from that era such films as, e.g., The Knack And How To Get It, Boeing Boeing, Georgie Girl, Alfie, The Birds, If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium, La Prisonniere ( aka Woman In Chains ) , Les Biches, You’re A Big Boy Now ( –okay, that one is U.S. ) , the 3 monochrome Antonio films ( L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse — but, n.b., these latter 3 are character studies and have little plot and are very long : they are admittedly limited in crowd appeal ) . With the exception of L’Avventura & La Notte, I saw all of these gems back in their original 1960s runs. They are truly wonderful time capsules. The 1960s films and music are an ocean of greatness, a mini-Renaissance. The circa A.D. 2010 Carey Mulligan film ‘ An Education ‘ wonderfully re-creates the early ’60s, too, and I heartily recommend it.

    Where I first saw ‘ La Voglia Matta ‘ I’m not sure. I may have caught a revival in the late ’60s or early ’70s, or on the telly somewhere. Maybe, perhaps, possibly someone with more recent knowledge of Catherine Spaak’s early filmography can tell me what film I saw her in in which she was a stewardess ( or air hostess ) with a different boyfriend in every city ( sort of a reverse Boeing Boeing or If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium, but with the girl as the gigola ).

    Vietato Ai Minori Di 16 Anni it announces at the start or beginning — pretty tame now !

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  2. I just wished to add to the film list Les Bonnes Femmes ( though I don’t think it is nearly as good as Chabrol’s Les Biches ) and the very strange Danger : Diabolik, a film from Italy, which I saw circa A.D. 1968 or 1969 ( it was briefly available at youtube at one point but then disappeared ) . Thanks.

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  3. Oh, and Zeffirelli’s Italian masterpiece, Romeo And Juliet of ’68 or ’69 –there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema at film’s end ( Olivia Hussey ! ) . I might as well add The Time Machine from ’60, just to complete my list. I realise that, with the Wuhan-Virus vaccinations, there will not be too many people staying home during the rest of 1921 and 1922 to watch old films, but, maybe, in the future, they might like a glimpse into this wondrous ocean of ’60s nostalgia. Apologies for such a long list from an old-timer. Thanks.

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