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  Ape Woman, The Does She Use Harmony Hairspray?
Year: 1964
Director: Marco Ferreri
Stars: Ugo Tognazzi, Annie Girardot, Achille Majeroni, Filippo Pompa Marcelli, Ermelinda de Felice, Elvira Paolini, Ugo Rossi, Donna Badoglio, Antonio Altoviti, Jacques Ruet, Tonino Cianci, Vittoria Esposito, Eva Belami, Marco Ferreri
Genre: Drama, Weirdo, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: This convent is staging a talk where a missionary has donated some of his material to be shown to the assembled audience of the time he went to Africa to teach the locals about Christianity. However, the men listening to this talk are more enthused about seeing topless tribeswomen than they are about the story of good works being brought to the supposed heathens, and are admonished; meanwhile, the slide operator, Antonio Focaccio (Ugo Tognazzi) takes the opportunity to visit the kitchens and help himself to the free food on offer, and while there one of the staff catches his attention. She is extremely shy for some reason, a reason that gives him an idea...

As a director, Marco Ferreri had a genuine beef with society as he saw it, basically as a bunch of scapegoating hypocrites who would climb over their fellow men and women if it meant they could garner some form of personal satisfaction or advantage. It was a highly cynical take on humanity and one that exhibited itself throughout a filmography which numbered among its highlights some of the most bizarre examples of risk-taking Italian cinema around, and this was a guy who was making movies in that nation during the nineteen-seventies, a heady time for their filmic output and one still packed with controversy and what could be regarded as terrible taste.

But somehow Ferreriā€™s intelligence would mark him out as someone to be taken seriously and not some cheap sensationalist, though sensationalism was definitely in his personal remit, should the opus demand it. This particular effort was based on a true story, updated to sixties Italy but surprisingly close to what had happened in the nineteenth century to Mexican Julia Pastrana, who was one of the few people afflicted by hypertrichosis, that is, a growth of thick hair all over the body and face that went beyond what would normally be expected on a human body, or indeed a woman's body. She found she could make a living as a sideshow freak, but perhaps predictably it didn't end well for her.

Even after she died, she was exploited by her unscrupulous husband, but Ferreri found more to explore in her story than this, as we are never very sure whether the Tognazzi character truly loves her, or comes to love her, or is whether he is a cold-hearted fairground charlatan. It seemed the producers were unsure as well, for while the director shot his preferred, accurate to life ending, they were not so keen and identified a bigger audience if he created an alternate conclusion that was far more benevolent. The producers got their way, and while some audiences on the Continent were viewing the harsher, more Ferreri ending, audiences elsewhere were given a sugarcoated finale and able to go home believing all was right in the world.

The original ending has now been restored and it is possible to compare the two; it has to be said, the first version has an integrity the sentimental and utterly false to life second version lacks, call it the Hollywood ending, where this is what you envisage test audiences would approve. The original is more in keeping with what happens in the rest of the film, as Maria (Annie Girardot unrecognisable under the makeup) is subjected to a campaign of persuasion to debase herself, first by pretending to be half ape/half woman for a stage show, and eventually as a stripper with Antonio hamming it up in "explorer" garb alongside her, performing for seedy nightclub audiences. Even this othering of Maria in public is not enough to keep his hands off her, and as he has married her to ensure she does as he says, she eventually becomes pregnant by him, her status as a forbidden fantasy figure subjected to all too prosaic experiences as a wife. And then Ferreri makes his disgust apparent, not with Maria, but with a society that allows this. Though plainly filmed, almost as a comedy, the original ending was disturbing, and, don't forget, authentic. Music by Teo Usuelli.

[The Ape Woman is on Blu-ray and digital 11 October 2021 from CultFilms.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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