L'asino d'oro: processo per fatti strani contro Lucius Apuleius cittadino romano [The Golden Ass] (1970) March 12, 2017 08:00
Those who believe comedy transcends time and culture haven't watched, without the benefit of subtitles, L'asino d'oro: processo per fatti strani contro Lucius Apuleius cittadino romano (translated: The Golden Ass: process for strange facts against Lucius Apuleius Roman citizen). The film is loosely based off the novel The Golden Ass written by Lucius Apuleius (also the name of the narrator and main character) published around the 2nd century AD, and regarded as the only complete Ancient Roman novel in Latin to exist.
Unfortunately L'asino d'oro (The Golden Ass) is about a man being turned in a donkey, and not the luscious rear end of cult femme fatale Barbara Bouchet, but the silver lining is she does briefly bare her derriere on a couple occasions. In the book the main character Lucius ventures in search of magic and ends up turning himself into a donkey and progresses on a journey filled with many side stories until he ultimately regains his human form at the power of the goddess Isis. In the film though Lucius appears more interested in making another type of magic with Pudentilla (Barbara Bouchet) who turns out to be a witch.
His rendezvous with Pudentilla sets Lucius on a series of unfortunate events: being imprisoned by Roman guards, his friend cutting his own throat due to a witches hex, and being turned into a donkey on multiple occasions. Many of these circumstances are very loose interpretations of the original source material's inset stories (shorter stories told by characters met along the way). In the film many of these inset stories are instead mixed into the plot of the film and played out by some of the main characters.
In the book one of the inset stories referred to as Thelyphron's Tale, features an young man named Thelyphron who is hired to watch over a corpse during the night to insure body parts were not stolen by shape-shifting witches known to use human flesh for incantations. That night the witches enter as small animals, put Thelyphron to sleep, steal pieces of the corpse's ears and nose and replace them with wax, so their disappearance is not quickly discovered. In the film Lucius is put in charge of overseeing a corpse, and Barbara Bouchet comes in and "distracts" him while the corpse's "manhood" is being taken by another witch in the form of some small creature. When Lucius awakes Bouchet is gone and he notices the missing body part and quickly scrambles to replace it with candle wax. It's these little tweaks in the original material that attempt to provide the film some more modern day comedic aspects.
Unfortunately the comedic stunts are few and far between, and most of the film is dialog heavy with very little visual clues as to what they are discussing making the film at times quite boring for a non-Italian speaker. If you're not familiar with the source material, reading an overview of the book will help to make some sense of what will appear at times to be a very choppy story, but won't clear up some of the more minute details. One such detail is the multiple hair color changes of Barbara Bouchet. Throughout the film we see her as a brunette, blonde and then at the very end with black hair. Is she playing multiple characters, or simply testing out which hair color gets Lucius the most aroused? In the book the goddess Isis supposedly saves Lucius from his tortured life as a donkey, and Barbara Bouchet dressed in all white at the very end seems to hint at that.
But if you do a quick search of Pudentilla, the character she's credited as playing, you learn that in real life Pudentilla was the wife of the author Lucius Apuleius (who loosely based the main character on himself), and whom Lucius married at the behest of her son Pontianus. Lucius was later tried in court for the charge that he had gained the affections of Pudentilla by charms and magic spells, a scene which is also in the film. So in affect this film may actually be more of a melding of Apuleius's novel and what history records were some actual events (likely exaggerated) in his own life.
If this film ever receives a proper and quality release I'd give it one more go, but up until now it's only been aired on Italian TV, and as you can see from the few screenshots I was able to lighten up (the rest are photos from our archives) the quality is pretty poor. Ironically I enjoyed researching the history of the film's source material, to try and decipher what I had watched, more than I actually enjoyed the film itself. I have to be honest Greek and Roman mythology, and the fiction literature from that period have never been of much interest to me and I've rarely seen a film adaptation that's managed to change my opinion of that. But in this case the brief overview of the book I read was more interesting than the film itself except for the inclusion of Barbara Bouchet, who has no trouble pulling off a 2nd century witch, goddess or Pantene Pro-V model.