I recently wrote a ~4000 word essay about why this movie is a forgotten masterpiece. It’s affected me like no film has since Femina Ridens, where I find myself just endlessly rewatching it and thinking about the many concepts it explores. In doing so, I’ve recently noted some details that I overlooked while writing my earlier review. Normally, I would just go back and edit the post in question to include these observations. But I also came across a much higher quality version of the film online, and I want to bring attention to that as well.
Even though it’s comparatively hard to find Sweet Deceptions on home media (at least stateside) I found the next best thing: a blu-ray caliber upload on the internet. Also, I took the time to edit the subtitles in order to fix one or two grammatical errors which previously annoyed the hell out of me, as well as rewrite a few badly worded translations. This new presentation of I Dolci Inganni can be found on the Internet Archive. Please do check it out–it might be my new all-time favorite movie, although it’s hard to beat Vertigo. In particular, I don’t think I’ve ever identified as strongly with a film-character as I do with Francesca.
- In my previous essay, I went to great lengths to discuss Eddy’s thoughts and motivations during the sequence where he and Francesca meet up with Enrico. I never discussed what Francesca’s own motivations probably were. I now believe that she brought Eddy there intentionally because she was seeking his validation. I postulate that, on some level, even Francesca knew that pursuing Enrico was a questionable decision at best from the very beginning. She kisses him in the first act of the story, when he’s on the phone with another woman, in order to signal that she’s interested. She’s jealous of the other woman (as she later admits) and probably frustrated that Enrico is dismissive of her as a romantic possibility. (For example, he doesn’t seem too interested in her dream and underestimates how old she is.) Yet, immediately after, she makes an excuse to leave Enrico’s apartment as though she’s uncomfortable with the possible ramifications of her own actions. Later, she leaves him hanging when they were supposed to meet up for lunch, probably because she’s still not sure if she really ought to be cozying up to such an older man or not. She wanted Eddy to see her with Enrico in order to get his blessing, so that she could tell herself that it’s okay. That’s why Francesca looks so crestfallen when she and Enrico return to find that Eddy has left–she’s now alone with her agency, and whatever she does next is all on her.
- Similarly, Francesca probably never meant for things to go so far with Enrico so quickly. She’s still young and a guileless romantic-at-heart. She probably just wanted a romantic dinner and dancing, not the loss of her virginity. Instead, Enrico doesn’t fulfill any of the promises he made; as soon as he knows they’re alone, he goes all the way. (Because he’s a huge sleazebag taking advantage of a young woman who trusts him and lacks the worldliness to know how to navigate this situation.) I always knew Enrico took advantage of Francesca’s inexperience, but it somehow never occurred to me that Francesca herself never intended to go all the way. This, I believe, is why she’s suddenly lost all her youthful energy and vivacious disposition just after they’ve done the deed. At least on some level, she probably felt used and uncomfortable from the moment it was over, which only increased as Enrico started acting more erratic.
- Francesca’s parents are visually absent in the film. Her father only says two lines off camera, and she speaks to him in a very formal manner. The mother is only referenced by other characters and isn’t there when Francesca attempts to call her for advice. (Eddy even says “I don’t know where she is.”) This detail strikes me as more and more significant with every viewing. It seems to imply a distant relationship and therefore a lack of parental guidance in Francesca’s life. This could explain many things, including a) why she’s so indecisive, b) why she likes older guys, c) why she bonds so strongly to her friend’s mother and d) why Enrico was (potentially) able to groom her in the first place. With regard to that last point though, it’s never directly spelled out how much Enrico has been a predator towards Francesca all along or if he opportunistically took advantage of her innocent and coincidental crush on him. That’s one of my favorite aspects of this story, it can be as dark as the viewer wants it to be.
- Enrico is a vampire who can only experience the blissful joy of first love vicariously through the perspective of his young victim. In Francesca’s eyes, he’s the best person in the world, where in real life he’s a divorcee living with his mom (or maid?) with a nagging shrew of a girlfriend. I never noticed the significance of his dead dog before, particularly the line “how does one replace the love of a dog?” He wanted someone around who perceives him as the center of the universe, who loved him unconditionally. He saw Francesca was a willing romantic possibility and decided (subconsciously or not) to mold her into his new pet. He wanted her to be someone completely dependent and unquestionably loyal, someone he could control, in contrast to his willful girlfriend. This metaphor of a dog is repeated in the scene with Renato, who’s also whipped by his girlfriend and compares himself to a dog, with her as the master. It seems to be a motif that all relationships are unequal and everyone desires to be on top.
- The organ-heavy music that plays during the opening and climactic love scene could either represent the horrific undertones of the story (since organs sound threatening and are used in gothic horror scores) or the pseudo-religious “sacrament” of falling in love.
- There’s a motif involving the use of mirrors. Francesca preens in front of the mirror in the morning, after having sex with Enrico and just before she witnesses Renato and Lavinia going at it. I’m not sure if they’re all connected thematically or if it’s a coincidence. However, the mirror at Lavinia’s house seems particularly significant in that we see two Francescas staring back at us–as though she has two possibilities in front of her, two paths she can take.
- The scene with the classmates from school is significant because they tell Francesca men only consider women to be marriage-material if they’re still innocent. This means Francesca was possibly operating under the belief that she had to pursue Enrico immediately, while she still met that criterion. It may contribute to her pain at the end of the film as well, perpetuating the “damaged goods” mentality which many victims of sexual abuse internalize.