Sexploitation genius Radley Metzger made one of the few genuinely inspired erotic movies with Camille 2000, his sexed-up, futuristic update of the classic Alexandre Dumas romance, famously adapted as an MGM vehicle for Greta Garbo. In a Swinging Sixties vision of the 21st century, Rome is the ultimate playground for young, gorgeous jet-setting hedonists. Foremost among these is Marguerite Gautier (Danièle Gaubert), a flighty and fabulously wealthy sex goddess who flits from one lover to the next, fuelled by bouts of intravenous drugs, but hiding a secret beneath her carefree façade.
Into her kinky universe stumbles Armand Duval (Nino Castelnuovo), a romantic and ambitious young man on the rise, though financially unstable and eager to escape the control of his father. Smitten with Marguerite, Armand ignores warnings from his friends and embarks on a passionate romance even though she is wary forming a lasting relationship. They spend an idyllic summer together, which Marguerite secretly funds by selling her valuable art treasures, but a series of obstacles set their love spiralling towards tragedy where finally Marguerite’s secret is revealed.
Although Radley Metzger had already made several notably literate excursions into arty erotica, Camille 2000 represented a major breakthrough. If ever a movie encapsulated the post-Sexual Revolution fantasy of chic, unrestrained hedonism this was it, but the film reaches beyond titillation to weave a intelligent, haunting and even profound story. Rome provides a sumptuous backdrop for all the sexual shenanigans, while Italian production and costume designer Enrico Sabattini fantastically complements Metzger’s ingenious visual sense. As the improbably gorgeous European cast cavort around luxurious mansions and avant-garde sets (dig that inflatable furniture!), you simply can’t believe a sex movie could ever look this good.
Metzger, an avowed Orson Welles and Michael Powell devotee, frames undraped bodies like an artist’s tableau. Making superb use of the scope format he indulges in post-modern playfulness (opening the movie with a clapperboard calling take one) and visual trickery (framing the naked lovers in multiple mirrors; the camera going in and out of focus to match the rhythms of Marguerite’s lovemaking), but is capable of poetic subtlety as the mirrors underline the duality of Marguerite’s nature and the town clock chimes the moment she commits to Armand, thus counting down to her eventual demise. Away from the bedroom, there is genuine highly charged drama when Armand confronts his love rival at the gambling table and humiliates Marguerite at a swinging party.
The banter exchanged between courting couples is marvellously wry and the sex scenes carry a real frisson of amour fou, yet the script written by Michael de Forrest exudes wit, romance and weaves intelligent discourse on love, fidelity and human nature. It is well acted throughout, not least by Nino Castelnuovo - handsome star of the magnificent The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) - who provides a compelling focal point, but the most crucial component of Camille 2000’s success is the amazing performance given by the tragically short-lived and astonishingly beautiful, Danièle Gaubert. She embodies a unique, multilayered heroine for an erotic film, playful and seductive yes, but hiding a deep searing pain beneath that glamorous surface - perfectly in keeping with the Garbo film.
Gaubert lights up the screen, with her only rival being the stunning Silvana Venturelli as Olympe. She takes centre stage - wearing an amazing metal dress - for a wild Marquis de Sade themed S&M orgy wherein Piero Piccioni’s superb psychedelic lounge score goes into overdrive for one of the steamiest, emotionally charged and psychologically twisted scenes Metzger ever concocted. Venturelli went on to play the lead in Metzger’s finest film: The Lickerish Quartet (1970). Interestingly, several American critics who were erotica enthusiasts blanched at what they perceived to be the phoney profundity of Metzger’s European sex movies, most notably Roger Ebert who subsequently penned Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), which one could say was sort of the anti-Camille 2000 in that it goes out of its way to mock meaning. Still, would it be a stretch to suggest movies like Camille 2000 made Last Tango in Paris (1972) possible?