Starring: Yuliya Mayarchuk, Francesca Nunzi, Jarno Berardi
Director: Tinto Brass
We tend to think of arty blue movies as a strictly ’70s phenomenon, but Tinto Brass persisted with the genre for decades afterwards, albeit without the lush costumes and sets he had enjoyed earlier on. Cheeky (2000) is definitely Brass on a budget. It’s also the Tinto Brass film with the two Ls – Lesbianism and London.
That’s right, long before Woody Allen had the idea of refreshing himself by heading to the Big Smoke, Brass was there before him, and the result is this slight but enjoyable tale. The protagonist is Carla (Yuliya Mayarchuk), a hotel receptionist from Venice, who falls under the sway of Moira (Francesca Nunzi), a lecherous female estate agent who lets her have a dockside loft at a discount in exchange for sexual favours. Meanwhile, back in Italy, Carla’s jealous boyfriend Matteo (Jarno Berardi) wonders what she is up to, although, as he delves into her various secrets, he discovers that she doesn’t have to go abroad to cheat on him – she’s just as happy doing it right under his nose.
It’s a story loosely structured around the theme of betrayal, transgression and lies, and the idea that a little of all three can be good for a relationship. You get the familiar gender dynamic – the girl, loving but promiscuous; the bloke, dogged, possessive and hopelessly unimaginative when it comes to the ways of Eros – but this time there’s the fun of seeing Brass playing out his recurring themes against a background of the Isle of Dogs and the Millennium Dome (it’s just a shame that his budget didn’t allow for more location shooting). And, for a change, much of the love-making has a Sapphic flavour.
Admittedly, it’s not the most substantial or dramatically coherent of Brass’ films, but there’s something appealingly unlikely about its portrayal of a London steeped in very un-Anglo-Saxon hanky-panky, where there’s a nude sauna or an orgy behind every door and a sexual coupling behind every bush.
Another major asset is Yuliya Mayarchuk, who was apparently working innocuously as a pizza chef in Naples when she was discovered by Brass. Clip-clopping around in high heels, with her back straight and her chest out and her fringe combed forward over her eyes, she carries herself like a well-groomed show pony, full of high spirits and the joys of spring, and she makes Matteo look like a very dull little donkey indeed by comparison.
Even though her character, Carla, is supposed to be worrying about Matteo, she exudes a comfortable self-sufficiency, and this draws a different approach from Brass. Brass has never made a nudist picture, but he comes close here as he contentedly tracks Mayarchuk’s naked body with his camera (even compared to Brass’ other leading ladies, she seems to be a stranger to clothes). The most unforced and effective scenes in the film are when Mayarchuk is by herself in her beloved dockside flat, pottering about and allowing the pale English light to play on her bare skin. Apart from that, the highlight is a nicely shot, sun-kissed flashback to a seaside liaison between Carla and a boy she met on a catering course which adds some full-frontal male nudity – a rare thing in Brass’ films – to the equation. The worst scene, oddly, is a depressingly creepy cameo from Brass himself as a photography shop owner with roving hands – Brass the director catching the sinister side of Brass the man perhaps.
Cheeky doesn’t have the ambition or the dramatic clout of Brass’ earlier movies, particularly the rather wonderful The Key, but for fans of this unique and quixotic director, its release on Blu-ray is very welcome nonetheless. By the way, you’ll definitely want to watch it in the original Italian rather than the English dub as a lot gets lost in translation. As with Frivolous Lola, the HD transfer is bright and cheery but a little lacking in crispness, no doubt due to limitations in the original film elements. As an extra, there’s a short featurette in which Brass explains his theory that the face is a hypocritical mask and if you want to know the truth about someone, checking out the booty is the way to go. Well, like I said, it’s a theory.