If you wanted so show people one Tinto Brass film that sums up his style, then Cheeky – or Transgressing, as it’s called on the opening titles – would be a good one. Made in 2000, this is one of his last films and somehow seems to encapsulate all the obsessions, the sense of style and the philosophy that has run through his work – not Salon Kitty or Caligula of course, but certainly all the films that he’s made since that time, from The Key to Frivolous Lola.
The film opens with Italian Carla Burin (Yuliya Mayarchuk) wandering through Hyde Park, having just moved from Venice to London. Brass has the uncanny ability to make his lead actresses seem like the sexiest women alive, and he manages that once again with Mayarchuk. But he doesn’t do this by simply making his characters into hyper sexual porn queens – that might be provocative, but it’s not necessarily sexy. Instead, Brass manages to create a character that is, quite frankly, adorable. Carla is a free spirit in all senses, happy, carefree, liberated and open, and it’s not just her diaphanous skirt and tight top – underwear nowhere to be seen, obviously – that makes her so immediately sexy, it’s her entire demeanour. Lots of sex goddesses of the screen might look like fantasy figures you’d like to have sex with but never could; Brass manages to make these gorgeous women into real people, with charm and a natural joie de vivre that is infectious. That such people are possibly as fictional a construct as the voracious man eaters of many a porno film (especially in 2018 Britain, where joie de vivre is decidedly thin on the ground) is regrettable.
Carla’s opening walk through the park sees her giggling at the various sights on offer – couples getting frisky (including, notably, a gay couple) mixed in with older people and children wandering through the park gives the film an immediate sense of liberation and a natural sexuality – it’s notable that the park and its naturalistic lack of inhibition will play a pivotal role in the film’s finale too. Even a flasher (sporting the first of several prosthetic erections to be seen in the film) can’t dampen Carla’s spirits – she just flashes him back and skips of laughing.
As with many a Brass film, the fly in the ointment harshing Carla’s buzz is dweeby jealous boyfriend Matteo (Jarno Berardi), who is still stuck in Venice and driven made by the idea of her possible infidelities. Frankly, he should be thanking God every day that this gorgeous woman even gives him the time of day, but instead he pouts and whines, frets about her relationship with lesbian estate agent Moira (Francesca Nunzi) (he possibly has reason for concern here, admittedly) and getting into a flap when he finds old love letters and a saucy picture from an ex-boyfriend. Finding Moira naked in Carla’s suspiciously cheap loft apartment when he unexpectedly arrives in London seems the last straw. Will true love conquer all? Will Carla finally bring Matteo around to her liberated, free-spirited way of thinking? Well, if you’ve seen any Brass films, you’ll already know the answer to that!
Brass is, of course, the master of this sort of thing and could probably make this sort of thing in his sleep, but nevertheless he brings a visual slickness and sense of style to the movie, helped by some fantastic sets and locations, and manages to keep the story light while still giving it enough dramatic thrust to sustain it as a feature. His personal obsessions are, naturally, to the fore – or, more accurately, to the rear, as his ass fetish is in full flow here. Mayarchuk spends a fair amount of the film with her frankly perfect posterior on display (the rest of the time she’s in skimpy little outfits), while a party she attends has most of the female guests displaying their asses as part of a game (allowing Brass to once again expound his philosophy that “the ass is the mirror of the soul” – I have no idea what it means, but I’m happy to go along with it…) before degenerating into a wild orgy.
There’s also a scene of Mayarchuk sitting on the toilet, another Brass movie given, though less explicit here than usual, and as usual, he pushes the boundaries of softcore – a better description of his films might be ‘mediumcore’, as the film is certainly more graphic than most softcore movies, with plenty of open leg shots, brief moments of digit penetration and erections, both real and unashamedly artificial (this edition of Cheeky, unlike previous DVDs, is the uncut version). Such scenes are interesting as they confirm that Brass is shooting softcore rather than hardcore not for commercial reasons but rather as an aesthetic choice. And there’s nothing grubby or sleazy about this film – quite the opposite, in fact. If there is such a thing as a wholesome sex movie, then this is it.
Mayarchuk, apparently discovered by Brass while working in a pizzeria, brings an authenticity to her character – she’s effortlessly sexy wandering around her apartment getting dressed or dashing through the streets in a barely-there skirt and pink angora sweater, and might well be the ultimate Brass starlet – sweet, innocent (even when engaged in anal sex!) and oddly wholesome. It’s a shame she emerged just as the Italian exploitation film industry – and the softcore movie in general – was breathing its last, as at any other time she probably would’ve had a long career ahead of her.
There are two audio options on this release – it defaults to the English dub, but this contains some frankly disturbing voices that are a real distraction (Moira sounds ridiculously butch), so I’d suggest you switch to the Italian version. Admittedly, the dialogue isn’t exactly earth-shattering in either language (I’m frankly unsure how this took five writers to create), but the Italian version allows the characters to be less cartoonish.
Cheeky is, of course, a bit of fluff in the grand scheme of things. A candyfloss film, sweet but insubstantial. And that’s fine. That’s exactly what it needs to be, a lightweight hymn to sexual freedom and liberation over repression that is sure to make all but the most sour faced and censorial smile and feel a little better about life. It’s comfort food film making and we all need a bit of that. If I had to make the choice, I’d take this over some ponderous, guilt-tripped and moralising ‘daring’ arthouse art porn any day. Not only is it more honest, it’s probably more vital too.