Valerie (Barbara Bouchet) is the young, beautiful Swedish wife of Italian dance choreographer David Rocchi (Pier Paolo Capponi). She has almost everything anyone could ask for except one thing. Her greatest desire is to conceive a child, but for David career comes first, so a baby is out of the question. Italy being a Catholic country, David’s rather drastic solution is to avoid sexual relations with his luscious wife. Driven insane by her husband’s psychological cruelty, Valerie becomes a ravenous, ravishing nymphomaniac seducing any man that happens her way.
Barbara Bouchet as an oft-naked nymphomaniac. Was there ever a more tantalising scenario in the annals of exploitation cinema? Appearances can be deceiving however, for whilst certainly erotic in parts, Valeria dentro e fuori (Valerie Inside Outside) is no ribald romp but instead a deadly serious and frankly deeply depressing psychological drama. Written and directed by Brunello Rondi, who contributed to the screenplays for several Federico Fellini films including La Dolce Vita (1960), Juliet of the Spirits (1965), Fellini Satyricon (1969) and City of Women (1980), this marked a rare chance for Bouchet to exhibit her genuine acting chops alongside her undoubted allure. Though the film opens with Bouchet lounging semi-nude save for sunglasses on a leather chair it sets after a more sober treatment of nymphomania than the sensationalist I Am a Nymphomaniac (1971), signposting its seriousness with Franco Bixio’s delicate piano-led score instead of the usual sultry jazz along with a prominent screen credit for an actual scientific authority on the subject.
The first half of the film recounts Valerie’s erotic adventures in non-explicit fashion, including her encounter with a Japanese composer whom she imagines as her kimono-clad lover in feudal era Japan and culminating in an elevator encounter with David’s brother, a judge no less named Marco (Gino Cassani). Marco confesses all to his brother and is immediately forgiven, whereupon David takes Valerie for a drive in the country as a pretext towards confining her in an asylum. As an auteur film rather than “mere” exploitation, this aims to seem sympathetic towards its sex-crazed heroine but retains that familiar, irksome Italian misogyny. Valerie remains victimised throughout, whether by the doctors and serenely sadistic nuns who poke and prod her at the asylum or her dastardly husband. In fact David is such an asshole he insists on observing while Valerie undergoes an agonising spinal tap procedure. Pier Paolo Capponi’s diffident performance leaves it frustratingly hard to discern whether David truly is a heartless bastard or genuinely concerned for his wife. An extremely vague twist towards the finale hints it was the former all along as it appears Valerie is not the first woman David has driven insane.
Rondi’s direction is self-important and heavy-handed in its use of pretentious psychosexual metaphors, punctuating the action with bizarre fantasy sequences (e.g. Valerie imagines herself as an opera singer while undergoing her operation) that do little besides derail the narrative. However, Barbara Bouchet is excellent. Her alternately harrowing and moving performance ably conveys the sad, profoundly traumatised woman lying beneath the sultry surface. Given all of Valerie’s lovers are dumpy, middle-aged men there remains an element of wish-fulfilment about his supposedly serious study of nymphomania.