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  Melissa P. Scandalous Schoolgirl
Year: 2005
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Stars: Maria Valverde, Letizia Ciampa, Primo Reggiani, Fabrizia Sacchi, Geraldine Chaplin, Nilo Mur, Claudio Santamaria, Carlo Antonelli, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Marcello Mazzarella, Elio Germano, Alba Rohrwacher, Davide Pasti, Francesca Madaro, Esmeralda Prete
Genre: Drama, SexBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: On a summer’s day in Sicily, fifteen year old Melissa (Maria Valverde) goes to a pool party at a friend’s house, hoping to share her first kiss with the boy she likes. Instead, Daniele (Primo Reggiani) forces Melissa to perform oral sex on him, then further humiliates the girl by ignoring her for the rest of the summer. Hopelessly in love, Melissa is still carrying a torch for the sleazy teen lothario at the start of the school year. Daniele takes advantage of her feelings, convincing her to sleep with him and his friends whenever he wants. Upon realising his true motivations, Melissa takes revenge and discovers the power of her own sexuality, sharing sexual encounters with other boys, older men and even strangers she meets on the internet.

Teenage author Melissa Panarello created a scandalous literary sensation in Italy where her erotic autobiographical novel, “One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed” allegedly outsold Harry Potter, prompting actress-turned-producer Francesca Neri - star of an earlier controversial erotic opus: The Ages of Lulu (1990) - and director/co-writer Luca Guadagnino to mount this glossy adaptation which proved similarly popular with Italian filmgoers. Writing pseudonymously in diary form, Panarello chronicles her extreme sexual odyssey, experimenting with threesomes, lesbianism, sadomasochism and freaky one-night stands with strangers met on sex chat-rooms, in at times unsettlingly frank and graphic fashion. But her work displays a depth of sensitivity and insight, alongside a sharp literary wit alluding to Pauline Réage, Anais Nin and the Marquis De Sade rather than the average porno potboiler.

Shot in the dreamy, day-glow hues of a teen photo-novella, the film echoes Panarello’s sympathetic view of adolescent sexual compulsion, with the camera occasionally adopting a subjective P.O.V. to translate intimacy of her prose. Guadagnino also skewers the predatory mindset of certain young males who are scarily adept at manipulating the heroine’s feelings and insecurities for their own ends. “I want to be cruel to the world as the world has been cruel to me”, remarks Melissa at one stage. Rather than let herself be degraded, she seizes control of these sexual encounters, although even her the film suggests there is an element of self-delusion. Like so many young rebels, the only person the confused, angry, lovelorn Melissa ends up hurting is herself. Guadagnino actually dials down the sex compared to the novel and sensibly pinpoints the key theme as the struggle to find true love inside the hormonal labyrinth of sex and desire. Nevertheless, Melissa P. tells far more conventional and contrived a story compared to its literary forebearer. The film expands the role of Melissa’s mother (Fabrizia Sacchi) and adds adds a tragic subplot about her beloved grandmother (Geraldine Chaplin) - the one person who seemingly understands her - which alongside her absent father (who works abroad) adds an element of finger-wagging chastisement, in place of the emotional honesty of the novel.

Whereas in the book Melissa’s misadventures stayed secret till she found happiness by herself, here there are tearful reconciliations, comeuppance for the scoundrels, a meeting with the boy who has adored her from afar (Nilo Mur), feelgood ballads and hugs. Fortunately, the sweet-natured performance delivered by Maria Valverde maintains a beating heart beneath the surface treacle.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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