Professor of Desire

Alberto Moravia was one of the first Italian authors of his day to write honestly about sex—it was therefore no surprise when, in 1952, his novels were declared immoral by the Vatican and placed on its "Index of Forbidden Books." Forbidden or not, over the years his works were snapped up by the movies—Bertolucci's The Conformist, De Sica's Two Women, Godard's Contempt. Cedric Kahn's L'Ennui, based on the writer's 1961 novel, La Noia, does contain at least a good half-dozen steamy bedroom scenes, but they're in the service of a fairly absorbing account of a philosophy professor's gradual descent into nightmarish obsession with a teenage girl. In this loose adaptation (with the action transferred from 1960s Italy to contemporary Paris), fortyish Martin (Charles Berling) meets the insatiable Cecilia (Sophie Guillemin) after she has apparently fucked to death her elderly painter lover (director Robert Kramer). The pretentious prof enters into a passionate affair with the inarticulate working-class model. He goes around the bend, stalking her every movement and submitting her to near Sadeian interrogation rituals. His nutty antics and the increas-ingly brutal love scenes become a tad tedious, but the film is endowed with some richly comic moments, including a grotesque Buñuelian passage during which Martin calls on Cecilia's clueless parents. While Berling is excellent as the tormented intellectual, somehow managing to evoke sympathy for the creepy dude, the plump, Rubenesque Guillemin steals the show. Her understated simplicity is her strength—this is one of the major movie debuts of recent years.

 
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