Comfortable and Furious

Dirty Old Men: Part 2

Marcello Mastroianni and Nastassja Kinski in Stay as You Are (1978)

There’s long been a belief that Europeans are more liberated than their stuffy, uptight British and American counterparts. Well, after sitting through this Italian erotic effort (with its focus on free love and lack of concern over teenage pregnancy, abortion and even incest), I gotta say I’m convinced. In fact, the Europeans on display here are so liberated that this apparently serious drama plays like a parody. The men even link arms while walking outside. Good grief.

How do they meet? In a garden on a massive estate with statues, fountains and shaped hedges. Mastroianni is a landscape architect in Florence on behalf of a client. What the hell Kinski is doing sitting on a step reading a book is never explained. Anyhow, she’s happy to get into a car with a complete stranger and off they go. Initially they chat about museums and botany, but it’s not long before they start getting down to business when she confesses that the thing she finds most attractive about a man is his hands. “A man’s hands reach out trying to touch you,” she tells him as he drives. “In fact, while you were talking, I felt that your hands were going to touch me.” They pull over, a development that only increases her wittering. “I see you haven’t the courage to touch me,” she says with her hand on his arm. “Go on. Touch me. Just one caress.” 

She then kisses the back of his hand and runs it down a breast. They bang off screen the same day, even though he hasn’t bothered to learn her name. Her bedroom, of course, is filled with big photos hanging on the wall of older men like Hemingway, Churchill and Einstein. Mastroianni then pops outside and when he returns Kinski’s roommate has come home. She is also a gorgeous teenager. “I’m hitting the sack now,” she says before standing up, taking all her clothes off in front of him and getting into bed beside the sated, sleeping Kinski.

You might already be able to guess that such a string of daft sequences is nothing but male fantasy. And yes, Stay as You Are was written and directed by men.

Is our dirty old man rich, powerful, famous or artistic? The wealthy Mastroianni runs a successful landscaping business and is the married father of an eighteen-year-old girl. The dude lives in a big house with a beautiful, devoted wife and wants for nothing. Mind you, Kinski isn’t short of a bob or two, either.

How does he make a much younger chick fall in love with him? Given the intense velocity with which the ditzy Kinski throws herself at him, he doesn’t actually have to do anything.

Do the parents object? Kinski’s mother is long dead and her father… might actually be Mastroianni. Uh-oh.

Nudity: Plentiful. At one point the seventeen-year-old, ravishingly beautiful Kinski is in the buff for about seven minutes straight. Disgraceful. Then there’s the bit where he’s biting her bum and this so excites her that she runs to the bathroom and returns with a glass of urine for him to drink. No wonder I immediately wrote to my MP to complain about all this filth that keeps appearing on my computer screen. Mastroianni, of course, does the right thing, and hides his arse cheeks and wee pipe. He does briefly dance a couple of times, though. The tart.

Key speech about the age gap: No one bats an eyelid about their relationship, even the man who has raised Kinski as his own daughter. The best we get is Mastroianni’s tiny moral wobble: “Do you realize how much older I am than you? I have a wife, a daughter, and there are so many other obstacles… A love affair at your age is very beautiful. However, at my age a little less.”

Most embarrassing bit: Take your pic. This one is chock-full of ickiness. I am fond of Kinski’s oversexed roommate, though. She, too, is desperate to get into Mastroianni’s pants after revealing Kinski is happy to share her men. “She sometimes lets me have them,” she says before unveiling an array of seduction attempts that include feeding him a cookie, suggestively dancing, slipping a finger into his mouth, a bout of tickling, and participating in phone sex in front of him. “I love professional men,” she continues. “They’re so sensitive and passionate. They make me feel hot.” Did I mention Stay as You Are was written by a bloke? Just when you start to get some handle on this roommate’s rampant lack of inhibition, there’s a classic scene in which Kinski comes home to find their living room full of naked, fucking couples. She just backs out wearing an expression that seems to say Oh Christ, not another orgy, I was hoping to get some ironing done.

Meanwhile, Mastroianni’s blasé daughter divulges in a heart-to-heart that she plans to have an abortion in London so she can simultaneously ‘do a little bit of shopping’. When she later learns of dad’s adulterous fling with a girl (who’s even younger than herself) she gives the affair her blessing. Oh, those open-minded Europeans!

However, the most embarrassing bit is far and away the contrived uncertainty over whether Kinski is actually Mastroianni’s daughter. I mean, what are the chances of bumping into a chick in a big garden and she turns out to be your flesh and blood? I think this whole is she-isn’t she malarkey is a misjudged attempt to generate suspense. Whatever the case, it merely made me scratch my head. Mastroianni seeks advice about the pitfalls from his best mate, a man so wise he consults a dictionary and reads aloud the definition of incest: A sexual relationship between people linked by kinship and blood ties. Usually considered an absolute obstacle to matrimony. “Ah,” he says, raising a finger, “to matrimony, not to love. They don’t even say it’s a sin. That taboo was invented by man, not by nature.” I can’t believe this. Mastroianni’s mate is basically giving him the green light to fuck someone that might be his daughter. Mastroianni, however, is more rueful. “It’s not a problem you can solve with a dictionary,” he says with an air of deflation.

Worse is to come. Kinski, whom we’ve long known is looking for a father-figure, isn’t bothered that he might be her dad. She insists her real father is the man who raised her not, er, her real father. “I don’t care,” is her final word on the matter. Well, I know these Italians are liberated, but sheesh.

Do they live happily ever after? Nope. Despite being deeply in love, she abandons him at the cinema after watching a retro movie called Vampyr. I have no idea what that is supposed to represent.

Richard Burton and Tatum O’Neal in Circle of Two (1981)

Burton may have gone out on a high with his excellent performance as the embodiment of the all-powerful state in Nineteen Eighty-Four but the final phase of his career was studded with turkeys such as The Medusa Touch and his dotty turns as a sleepwalking priest in Exorcist II and a shovel-wielding one in Absolution. Circle of Two, filmed in Canada just three years before his death, is no exception. It’s a slender tale in which he surrounds himself with sub-par actors. Neither did it help O’Neal (a former Oscar-winning child star) as she stiffly tried to ignore Burton’s paunch, tufts of white hair and budding man boobs.

How do they meet? During a dirty movie at a cinema. The precocious, Columbo-obsessed Tatum has been dared by friends to go when she spots Burton asleep near the front. This begs two questions: How does such a young girl get past staff and why does Burton bother with such sleaziness if it only induces a nap? Later they bump into each other at a cafe. “You’re the dirty old man!” she cries.

Is our dirty old man rich, powerful, famous or artistic? Oh, yes. Burton’s a famous sixty-year-old painter. Or at least he was, having not picked up a brush in a decade after taking a critic’s withering assessment to heart. Somehow a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl has not only heard of this long-dormant artist but thinks he’s cool. Hmm, I always thought painters needed to be dead for about half a century before they started making their name.

How does he make a much younger chick fall in love with him? By taking an interest in her nascent prose. “No matter what anyone says, you have a responsibility to write,” he says after flicking through a folder of her jottings. “You have an absolutely natural talent.” Oh, Richard, you fibber, we all know a schoolgirl’s navel gazing belongs in a diary that will one day be burnt in a fit of acute embarrassment.

Most embarrassing bit: After she visits his house for the first time, Burton is next seen in a tracksuit jogging ten yards along the beach while being secretly observed by Tatum and friend. “That’s sixty…?” the friend says with mild wonder in her voice, as if Usain Bolt has just zoomed past.

Do they do it? ’Fraid not. Tatum offers her virginity, but Burton insists on keeping things platonic. What a good guy! Some hugs and a chaste kiss are the only fireworks we get.

Nudity: Circle of Two boasts Tatum’s only bit of onscreen nudity and very nice it is, too. She slips into his studio without a stitch on, stands behind a chair with a stogie and proclaims: “Nude with cigar!” For some reason this joyous display of taut teenage flesh annoys him. “Get dressed!” he hisses before angrily kicking a wooden box.

Do mummy and daddy object? Most certainly. They keep Tatum locked in her bedroom, take away her phone and dole out the odd slap as she threatens a hunger strike. Unsure if she’s allowed to continue watching Columbo.

Key speech about the age gap: “It’s obvious we can’t appeal to your sense of decency,” the narked mum tells Burton when he turns up on the doorstep, “but maybe, just maybe, you have a sense of the ridiculous.” It’s a fairly cutting assessment and Burton’s got no answer.

Do they live happily ever after? Tatum’s two school friends both accept Burton, happily participating in a sing-a-long in French when he takes them out on his boat. Tatum herself is besotted. “I wouldn’t care if you were in a wheelchair,” she tells him. “I love you.” Burton also loves her. At one point the mother even acknowledges how attractive older men can be and implies she has personal experience. However, none of it is enough to keep these nonphysical lovers together. Oh well, at least Tatum got him painting again.






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