Skip to content

Plot: two liberated adolescent girls escape their boring small-town lives.

That To Be Twenty wasn’t going to be the average commedia sexy all’Italiana is more than obvious when it opens with “I was twenty, I won't let anyone say those are the best years of your life”, a quote from French philosopher Paul Nizan, a friend of Jean-Paul Sartre. Earlier in the decade director Fernando Di Leo had experienced trouble with authorities and government for this his Milieu Trilogy consisting of Caliber 9 (1972), The Italian Connection (1971), and The Boss (1973). Di Leo had already poked fun at the inherent absurdities of the giallo with The Beast Kills In Cold Blood (1971) and now he was looking to channel his subversive inclinations elsewhere. What better way to indulge in some devastating socio-political criticism than to dress it up as a light and fun commedia sexy all’Italiana? Who better to deliver said pointed message than the genre’s two prime Lolitas as well as veterans Vittorio Caprioli and Ray Lovelock? To Be Twenty is the summit of 1970s Italian comedy. The less you know about its most celebrated punch the better. For that reason we encourage anybody seriously interested in experiencing To Be Twenty with virgin eyes to seek out the original uncut Italian print – and to avoid the international English-language cut at any cost.

From 1964 to 1985 Di Leo directed 20 movies and wrote 43 screenplays. As many a director Fernando Di Leo got his start as a screenwriter and one of his most famous screenplays was that for the spaghetti western A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) from Sergio Leone. For the sequel For A Few Dollars More (1965) Leone promoted Di Leo to assistant director. Like so many he filmed in whatever genre was popular and profitable that decade. As such Di Leo directed spaghetti westerns, film noir, poliziotteschi, and crime/action movies. In retrospect it’s only just that Di Leo is mostly remembered for his masterpiece, the one that pulled the rug from under the otherwise futile commedia sexy all’Italiana genre so fabulously by having the exposed bodies of Guida and Carati act as vessels for biting socio-political criticism.

Better even, Di Leo likes to play with audience expectations and in To Be Twenty he used a decidedly funny running gag to deliver the movie’s most celebrated and most widely misuderstood punch. Said punch was so controversial that worried distributors quickly pulled it from theatres, and with scissors in hand butchered one of Italy’s greatest and most subversive sex comedies. In what only can be considered one of the most puzzling re-edits in Italian and international cinema history, they completely missed the point Di Leo was making. Fernando Di Leo had planned a prequel set in 1940s Italy with Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati both reprising their roles, but the out-of-nowhere surprise ending didn’t sit well with audiences and distributors alike. Thus the intended prequel never materialized. Di Leo passed away of natural causes at the age of 71 in December 2003.

Lia (Gloria Guida) and Tina (Lilli Carati) are two emancipated adolescents hitchhiking their way from the provinces to the more cosmopolitan Rome. Describing themselves as, “young, hot and pissed off” the two concubines are in search of a place that will allow them to live out their lives in complete freedom, sexual and otherwise. The two feel restricted in their traditional rural environment and seek to try their luck in the more liberated Rome. En route to the big city the two hike across town but they seem to have little luck hitching a ride until Tina throws a few seductive glances across the road. A car finally pulls up and the girls’ spirits are lifted at long last. That is until the driver (Serena Bennato) make a pass on Tina and she angrily storms off as Lia looks on. The girls decide to take their chances and wait it out. Thankfully a friendly trucker takes them in and drives them to town, a place where he was going anyway. Before getting into the truck they encounter Nazariota (Vittorio Caprioli), proprietor of a hippie commune in the city where everybody is free to do whatever they please. Their acquaintances made Lia and Tina hop into the truck and are on their way to Rome.

What are two searingly beautiful adolescent girls to do in the big city? The two play in and drink from public fountains, steal cigarettes, enter a local café and flirt their way out of having to pay for anything. They break into impromptu suggestive dance routines on the Piazza di Spagna much to the amusement of a street musician and they shoplift from a convenient store because what else do we expect two beautiful girls with no discernable life skills to do? Looks are everything. After their assorted misadventures in town the girls happen upon the commune from Nazariota. Tina is immediately smitten by strapping free-spirited layabout Rico (Ray Lovelock) while Lia is happy to enjoy the quiet that the commune offers. They are given a living quarters with Arguinas (Leopoldo Mastelloni), a seemingly mute mime, but in actuality a practitioner of transcendental meditation. To occupy their time and to support themselves at the commune the duo sell encyclopedias to dusty professors. Lia and Tina engage in lesbian histrionics to tempt Arguinas, attend a reading of Valerie Solanas's 1965 radical feminist SCUM Manifesto and eventually realize the commune is a front for prostitution and drug running. A lesbian (Licinia Lentini) tries to seduce Lia. Not much later commune member Riccetto (Vincenzo Crocitti) is revealed to be an informant and hard-nosed police inspector Zambo (Giorgio Bracardi) grills the inhabitants. At this point Tina and Lia flee the commune because it’s not nearly as free as was promised. The two then enter a trattoria where they meet a man (Carmelo Reale, as Roberto Reale) and his gang. One last flirt couldn’t possibly hurt, right? What harm would anybody possibly inflict on two searingly beautiful adolescent girls?

The stars of To Be Twenty are the two prime Lolitas of lowbrow commedia sexy all’Italiana: Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati. Gloria Guida was Miss Teen Italy 1974 and the star of Mario Imperoli’s Monika (1974) and Blue Jeans (1975) that made her shapely derrière a legend in its own right. As a nod to her most famous movie Guida wears a similar pair of lowcut denim. Gloria was everybody’s favorite clothing-averse schoolgirl in a trio of La Liceale (1975) movies in the mid-to-late seventies. Whether she was a naughty schoolgirl, a novice at the convent, or a young nurse – at some point Gloria always ended up losing her top and frequently more articles of clothing. Where Gloria Guida was, very naked shenanigans usually followed. Guida might not have been a Laura Antonelli but she dominated the niche that she inhabited. It’s easy to forget that glorious Gloria shared the screen with Corrado Pani, Nino Castelnuovo, Lando Buzzanca, Marco Guglielmi, Mario Carotenuto, Ennio Colaianni, and Giuseppe Pambieri. Guida married crooner and showman Johnny Dorelli in 1981 and the two have been together since. Gloria maintained a short-lived singing career next to her acting as can be heard in the title song of To Be Twenty as well as Night Nurse (1979). La Guida remains a beloved monument of Italian culture, cinema and otherwise, even to this day.

Fate wasn’t so kind to poor Lilli Carati. Carati was also a former pageant and even was crowned Miss Elegance at a beauty contest in Calabria next to being the first runner-up at Miss Italy 1975. Lovely Lilli was a star of lowbrow comedies in her own right, but her star never shone as bright nor as fierce as Guida’s. Carati appeared on the covers of Playboy (December, 1976 and September, 1978), Playmen (October, 1976) and Penthouse (December, 1982). In 1984 Lilli made her acquaintance with director Joe D’Amato through mutual friend Jenny Tamburi and before long Carati appeared in four of D’Amato’s erotic movies. Things turned to worse for lovely Lilli as by 1987 she had descended into hardcore pornography and worked with performer Rocco Siffredi on a number of occasions. In the 1980s Carati would lose herself in addiction to alcohol, heroin, and cocaine. After two suicide attempts and an arrest for possession Lilli underwent therapy for three years in the Saman community of anti-authoritarian sociologist, journalist, political activist, and sometime guru Mauro Rostagno – famously murdered by the Costa Nostra - where she was the subject of the documentary Lilli, una vita da eroina (or Lilli, A Life of Heroin) by Rony Daopoulos. In 2014, at age 58, disgraced and forgotten, she passed away from a brain tumour.

To say that To Be Twenty is brazenly irreverent and subtextually rich would be an understatement if there ever was one. What Top Sensation (1969) from Ottavio Alessi was to the giallo, To Be Twenty was to the a light-hearted commedia sexy all’Italiana. 1970s Italy was a target-rich environment and Di Leo aims at everything from Italian machismo culture, provincial attitudes towards sexuality, gender roles, and youth counterculture to police corruption, the class divide, and the futility of the hippie Love Generation. It mocks self-important males in roles of authority (store detectives, police inspectors), the generation gap and the bourgeoisie. It has a biting contempt for everything and everyone, and anything is a potential target for critique. In the feature’s biggest running joke Lia and Tina throw themselves at each and every man (and who in their right mind would rebuke Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati in 1978?) they encounter yet are rejected again and again. Glorious Gloria had done her fair part of melodrama at this point – but she never, either before or after, was given a script this impressive. Forget the flights of fancy from The Minor (1974), forget the wicked mischief of That Malicious Age (1975) or the tragedy of Sins Of Youth (1975). This might start out like a variation on either Blue Jeans (1975) or La Liceale (1975) – but this is something else. This one is seething with disdain and overflowing with contempt – and any and everybody is fair game.

Nobody’s going to contest that Gloria Guida’s tour of duty through Italian comedy yielded any bona fide classics, one or two exceptions notwithstanding. Both Guida and Carati excelled in playing sexually promiscuous airheaded bimbos, and they did so with great relish and gusto. By 1978 every possible permutation and sexual kink of the commedia sexy all’Italiana had been thoroughly exhausted. To drag the genre kicking and screaming into the next decade somebody had to upset the status-quo and defy expectations in a major way. Fernando Di Leo heeded that call. Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati both were the Lolitas of the lower end of the spectrum and To Be Twenty follows all of the usual conventions wonderfully to create a false sense of security. Everything looks like pretty standard fare you’d expect from these belles except that Di Leo’s screenplay is far darker and more cynical around every turn. Vittorio Caprioli and Licinia Lentini play the kind of characters expected of them. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek and the jokes come flying early and often. It’s not until the very end until To Be Twenty reveals its true motives and lasting power. It’s unfortunate that neither Guida nor the late Carati ever had the chance to partake in another sardonic and deconstructionist genre exercise like this again. Di Leo knew their strengths and played up to them. To make a long story short, To Be Twenty is among the best 70s commedia sexy all’Italiana has to offer. The only caveat is that this is only true for the original uncut Italian print – and not the international English-language version chopped together by panicky distributors.

Plot: Elaine is not your ordinary witch. She's something else...

The Love Witch isn’t just another indie film. It isn’t just another nostalgia piece either. No, it's something else. It is an affectionate love letter to the fashion, music, and cinematic conventions of the gaudy and exuberant 70s. The Love Witch is a stylistic reverie so lovingly crafted, so wonderfully executed that it feels as a conduit back into that era. Sumptuously designed, beautifully photographed, and perfectly cast The Love Witch is a treasure trove for anybody familiar with late sixties/early seventies exploitation cinema. In that respect it’s almost an arthouse production. Before anything else, The Love Witch is a two-hour throwback to the glamour and glory of 1960s Technicolor and classic Hollywood films, but with far more boiling below the surface. It’s a philosophically provocative musing on gender obstacles and a feminist manifesto wrapped in some of the most enchantingly beautiful production design this side of early Tsui Hark.

It’s framed like a Hitchcock film and unfolds like an early Tim Burton fairytale as Beetlejuice (1988) or Edward Scissorhands (1990), themselves heavily romanticized versions of 1960s romantic dramas. To its everlasting strength The Love Witch is a phantasmagoria of different moods and dabbles in a multitude of subgenres. It has the hyperstylized lighting and high-fashion of a 1970s Italian giallo from Mario Bava, Luciano Ercoli, or Dario Argento; the deep oneiric atmosphere of a French fantastique in tradition of Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1971), the erotic quality and soft focus of a mid-70s Renato Polselli or Luigi Batzella gothic horror with Rita Calderoni, all while having the subtextual richness of Jaromil Jires’ Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders (1970) and a pronounced feminist undercurrent not unlike Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967). It’s probably what something as Pervirella (1997) or Superstarlet A.D. (2000) could have looked like had it been made by a genuinely talented filmmaker on a modest to decent budget.

Newly widowed Elaine Parks (Samantha Robinson) moves from San Francisco to Arcata, California to start a new life after the death of her husband Jerry (Stephen Wozniak). She takes up residence in an opulent Victorian mansion and befriends her home decorator neighbor Trish Manning (Laura Waddell). At the local teahouse Elaine meets Trish’s husband Richard (Robert Seeley). There’s an obvious attraction between the two, but Elaine ignores it. At wit’s end Elaine seeks an audience with her mentor Barbara (Jennifer Ingrum) and the head of her coven Gahan (Jared Sanford). Once back home she she brews a potion, and soon finds a lover in university literature professor Wayne Peters (Jeffrey Vincent Parise). The two have a steamy night at his cabin, and Wayne starts to obsess over her. Elaine doesn’t like that, and when she comes to wake him later, she finds him dead. She buries his remains, and sets her sights on Richard, figuring he won’t be able to obsess over her since he’s married to her friend Trish. Elaine once again does her dance of seduction and brews a him potion.

Trish suspects that Richard is having an affair since he drank himself in a stupor and is otherwise ignoring her. The sudden vanishing of Wayne attracts the attention of police investigator Griff Meadows (Gian Keys) and Elaine becomes a prime suspect. Griff, as all men are wont to do in presence of one so elegant, falls madly in love with her. At the Renaissance Faire the coven performs a mock wedding ritual for Elaine and Griff. Meanwhile Richard has killed himself obsessing over Elaine, much to the dismay of Trish. Elaine has the coven perform a love ritual for her and Griff. Meanwhile Trish has figured out that Elaine was the woman Richard was having an affair with, and goes as far to find Elaine’s altar. Intrigued she starts dressing and acting just like Elaine. When word gets out that Elaine is a witch the employees of the burlesque theater call for her to be burned. In the confusion Griff helps her escape and the two take up residence in her apartment, there Elaine concocts him a potion. Upon realizing that Griff was correct that no man can ever love her enough, Elaine stabs Griff to death. In her deepest delirium Elaine imagines that Griff proposed to her and that they are wedded.

A character-driven piece like this irrevocably stands or falls by grace of its lead. As such Samantha Robinson was perfectly cast. She has the wide-eyed features of Barbara Steele, the regal demeanour of Edwige Fenech, Femi Benussi, and Rosalba Neri, and oozes sensuality much in the same way as Soledad Miranda, Nieves Navarro, and Barbara Bouchet – all while retaining an American pin-up quality like Celeste Yarnall or Mary-Louise Parker. It also doesn’t hurt that Robinson sort of looks like a young Mary-Louise Parker. Whether she’s sporting elegant evening dresses, gazing dreamily into the frame, or seductively cavorting around in lingerie in her Victorian abode, The Love Witch made a star out of miss Robinson. Her performance was bound to attract attention, and that it did. Recently Hollywood took notice of Robinson when Quentin Tarantino cast her in his award-winning 1970s epic Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019). Impressive when you think Robinson’s only remembered prior work was the indie thriller Misogynist (2013), and the functionally bland Lifetime television movie Sugar Daddies (2014). “I’m the Love Witch,” Robinson chirps in an early scene, “I’m your ultimate fantasy!” Truer words have seldom been spoken. Hedonism is, can, and should be, a virtue.

The real beauty of The Love Witch is how multi-faceted and multi-layered it is. It’s a cinematic Rorschach test of sorts. You take from it what you want, and you see in it what your tastes steer you towards. Coming to it from the angle that we do (from a cult, obscure, and weird cinema perspective) it’s a celebration of fringe cinema, and of dead genres. It’s as American as they come yet there’s something really French and Spanish about it. The setting is American, but the pastel and pink-white color palette is informed by Italian genre cinema. The Love Witch has a coven, a riff on Satanic panic, the devil cult, and the Inquisition movies of the seventies; the romantic montages play out like those of a commedia sexy all’Italiana (without the overt sexism and machismo), and the entire thing has the feel of a French drama with Muriel Catalá or Isabelle Adjani. It’s Faustine and the Beautiful Summer (1972) with a glorious helping of psychotronics and psychedelia straight out of All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), or any of the LSD counterculture movies following Easy Rider (1969). It’s equal amounts Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1971) as it is Suspiria (1977). Disconnected from the influences that you project onto it, The Love Witch is just very, very good.

That The Love Witch is the work of just one woman makes it all the more impressive, especially with this being an indie. The creative force behind The Love Witch is Anna Biller. Not only did Biller write, produce, and direct this two-hour feature; she also served as art director, production – and costume designer, action choreographer, props master, and composer. If that weren’t impressive enough in and of itself, The Love Witch was only her second directorial feature coming after the retro sex comedy Viva (2007) and a handful of shorts (in 2001, 1998, and 1994). She had to fight tooth and nail to realize her vision and lensed it with a hostile, mutinous crew (that saw a host of their number either leaving or actively sabotaging the production). That Biller has but two credits to her name is testament to how fully realized, lovingly crafted, and richly detailed her features are.

In her score she borrows a few stings from the Ennio Morricone soundtracks to A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971) and All the Colors of the Dark (1972). A good choice, definitely. Truth be told, The Love Witch is the sort of production where you’d expect a few winks and nods towards Bruno Nicolai’s work for Jess Franco, especially something dreamy as A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) or Nightmares Come At Night (1972). In the sixties Samantha Robinson would have been a Bond girl, and a decade removed from that she would have been serious competition for Eurobabes as Soledad Miranda, Edwige Fenech, Rosalba Neri, Barbara Bouchet, Luciana Paluzzi, Yutte Stensgaard, Valerie Leon, Betsabé Ruiz, and Silvia Tortosa. Any which way you slice it, The Love Witch is an exceptional piece of independent filmmaking. To say that we’re excited for whatever Anna Biller does next would be an understatement.