Written by: Carroll Jenkins on April 4th, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1991
Director: Tinto Brass
Writers: Tinto Brass, Bernardino Zapponi
Cast: Deborah Caprioglio, Stéphane Ferrara, Martine Brochard, Stéphane Bonnet, Rossana Gavinel, Renzo Rinaldi, Nina Soldano, Clara Algranti, Luciana Cirenei, John Steiner, Valentine Demy, Luigi Laezza, Riccardo Garrone, Paul Muller, Clarita Gatto, Osiride Pevarello
DVD released: June 24th, 2002
Approximate running time: 112 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Letterboxed Widescreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo Italian
Subtitles: English (burnt-in)
DVD Release: Arrow Films
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: OOP
Synopsis: A young woman joins a brothel for 15 days to earn money for her fiancé so they can get married. Despite dire warnings from the brothel’s doctor, she embraces her new profession and her new alias ‘Paprika’. She falls in love with her first trick, discovers her fiancé is just a pimp, learns lesbianism from a fellow worker, and about sex toys from the madam. She also earns three times more than the other girls though they get paid the same per trick (do the math).
This synopsis covers only the first 30 minutes of a 112 minute (uncut) film, but that doesn’t begin to convey the intricate storytelling involved or that the plot is only a framework upon which to hang the performances, the characterizations, and the social commentary / humor. Every shot was obviously meticulously story-boarded, not common practice for deviant sex films. And the staggering amount of nudity and sexual situations are present either to forward the story, are darkly ironic, or are scathing indictments of humanity. The humor is mostly subtle, as when a prostitute is dying and the madam calls for a doctor. There IS a doctor in the house, of course, but when she pleads for a priest, there’s one of those present as well. This one scene fulfills the earlier warnings by the doctor, provides a little Catholic priest humor, and forwards the plot as Paprika decides to retire from the business and sail off with her lover. Next scene she is penniless and in another house, explaining that the boat had been mortgaged, her money lost, and her lover off to sea.
The leading lady is Deborah Caprioglio, already notorious as former wife to Klaus Kinsky whilst in his 70’s. This pairing is mirrored in the plot when Paprika marries a Count in his 70’s. The part seems tailored made for her, and she for it with her natural 38DD-22-36 attributes. Her role is to be our eyes and ears as she naively experiences the underground world around her. She is sweet and engaging and frequently nude, so that’s not hard to achieve. Director Tinto Brass has the camera worship her body and films her from practically every possible angle, sometimes in red or blue tint. She successfully makes the transition from frumpy peasant girl to aristocratic Countess, so her job is done. There are numerous secondary characters and most are quirky and memorable, but the real co-stars are the various madams that she serves, and they all want a taste of Paprika.
The interiors of the brothels are surreal environments that can hardly be dated, being wonderlands of mass production of sex, but the Merlin Law that permanently closed the houses ends the movie as well (except for a brief epilogue), and that was enacted in 1959. By the way, Tinto stays true to form with the title shot projected upon Paprika’s behind (in a dress), and the closing credits upon that of a marble statue.
There have been several versions available; the Arrow UK non-anamorphic with burned-in English subs and the Dutch release with Dutch subs – both are in limited supply [OOP but still can be found]. The earlier versions are all OOP and were cropped and/or cut except for the Japanese release. Often this portends a definitive version around the corner, so here’s hoping.
What other film presents lots of nudity and an ambitious story filled with sex and perversion and boasting high production values? The answer would be Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls. Difference is the humor in Paprika is subtle but intentional, whereas Showgirls is just an incredibly bad movie.
Paprika, though little known, is the probable high water mark of Tinto Brass’ career (perhaps excluding the golden showers scene).