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Plot: exchange student pulls prank on class playboy. Hilarity ensues!

The careers of commedia sexy all'Italiana starlets Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati were irrevocably intertwined but didn’t exactly run parallel. Whereas la Guida made her ass a thing of national pride through a series of breezy comedies, Carati wasn’t so fortunate. Lovely, luscious Lilli… She who shone so fiercely, so brightly, and who crashed so spectacularly, so miserably, so undeservedly. Forever the bad girl. There’s no disputing that To Be Twenty (1978) was a career peak for both la Guida and la Carati. Moreso for Carati as Guida was already was an established star by that point and even had a few genuine box office hits to her name prior to La Liceale (1975). Fernando Di Leo had not only upstaged the commedia sexy all'Italiana formula by turning the conventions on its head, and even more importantly, he used them as a vehicle some of the most scathing socio-political commentary aimed at church and state alike. Before Carati got there there was La compagna di banco (or The Seatmate, for those in the English-speaking world) from Mariano Laurenti, which hardly was the worst, or the most odious, thing that Lilli ever lend her name (and figure) to.

Mariano Laurenti was one of many specialized directors that ushered the commedia sexy all’Italiana into its various forms and through multiple decades. He’s mostly remembered around these parts for the indispensible Edwige Fenech-Malisa Longo decamerotico Beautiful Antonia, First a Nun Then a Demon (1972). Laurenti was instrumental in helping Edwige Fenech reinvent herself after her tenure as giallo queen. He worked with miss Fenech on many an occassion, but their association was by no means exclusive. He helped sire the comedic careers of just about every comedic Eurocult leading lady including, but not limited to, Nieves Navarro, Femi Benussi, and Orchidea De Santis to Nadia Cassini, Dagmar Lassander, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, and Anita Strindberg. He was the creative force behind My Father's Private Secretary (1976) plus La Guida’s post-La Liceale (1975) romp The Landlord (1976), as well as her post-To Be Twenty (1978) efforts The Highschool Girl Repeating Class (1978), The Night Nurse (1979), and How to Seduce Your Teacher (1979). Once Gloria divested of her famous schoolgirl character in search of greener pastures he directed The Repeater Winks at the Headmaster (1980), or that illicit sequel wherein Anna Maria Rizzoli superseded Sabrina Siani as the horny and mischievous schoolgirl. In his twilight years he assistant directed the breastacular Saint Tropez, Saint Tropez (1992) (with the delectable duo of former Tinto Brass goddesses Debora Caprioglio and Serena Grandi).

Simona Girardi (Lilli Carati) is a beautiful 18-year-old student who has newly moved from Milan to Trani in the region of Apulia. As a transfer student and newcomer at Mamiani Lyceum she immediately attracks the attention of philandering lothario of class 3B Mario D'Olivo (Antonio Melidoni). After hearing from her new friends the blonde Mirella (Brigitte Petronio) and fashionably crewcut Vera (Susanna Schemmari) that Mario has broken many hearts and that he will break hers if she’ll let him. With that in mind the girls decide that a suitable bit of revenge is in order. Simona will seduce him and give him a bit of his own medicine in retaliation. Mario’s best friends (and professional practical jokers) are ginger class clown Nicola Martocchia (Stefano Amato) and certified virgin-for-life Gennarino (Nando Paone, as Ferdinando Paone). The boys love nothing more than to come to Mario’s apartment and spy on nubile women undressing in the tailor shop of Mario’s father below.

Hijinks ensue when Mario’s father, Teo (Lino Banfi) hits on upperclass socialite Elena Mancuso (Nikki Gentile, as Niki Gentile) and he has to pretend to be gay to escape the wrath of her Mafia don husband signor Carmine Mancuso (Rosario Borelli). All of which amuses shop assistant Giuditta (Ermelinda De Felice) to no end. Back at home Mario barely has time to study as he has to ward off the unwanted advances of perennially horny maid Dominica (Paola Maiolini). At the faculty the teaching – and supporting staff are having their own problems. Professor of physics and gym Ilario Cacioppo (Gianfranco D'Angelo) and substitute Salvatore (Alvaro Vitali) are working on such a meager paycheck that they have to rely on fruit and vegetables the students bring to survive. Of course, all of them are booby-trapped.

Cacioppo is introduced to giant new teacher Professor Marimonti (Francesca Romana Coluzzi) who’s built like a linebacker and has the strength to match. Meanwhile the boys convince Salvatore that Elena Mancuso is a nymphomaniac lusting for him. Along the way Simona picks up an older suitor in Federico (Vittorio Stagni). Amidst all this chaos the principal (Marcello Martana) does everything within his power to avert crises at all costs. When Simona wants to introduce Mario to her parents (Gigi Ballista and Linda Sini) he gifts her a family heirloom which leads the D'Olivo clan accusing her of theft. When Commissioner Acavallo (Giacomo Furia) interrogates all the various parties involved, it’s Mario’s attorney mother (Cristina Grado, as Christina Grado) who comes to Simona’s rescue. Naturally, with all of this going on romance starts to grow between Simona and Mario.

Miss Cinema Campania Loredana Piazza (left), Miss Italia Mary Montefusco (middle), and Miss Eleganza Lilli Carati (right)

In 1974 Mary Montefusco was Miss Italia, Gloria Guida became Miss Teen Italia, Lilli Carati was crowned Miss Eleganza, and Loredana Piazza was Miss Cinema Campania. In the jury sat producer Franco Cristaldi who saw Lilli’s star potential and ensured she got her start in commedia sexy all’Italiana. Guida’s career was off to a flying start and she would, despite a few minor hiccups here and there, remain steadily in the mainstream.

Lilli had the good fortune to work with the greatest in domestic comedy including, but not limited to, Sergio and Bruno Corbucci, Michele Massimo Tarantini, Mariano Laurenti, and Pasquale Festa Campanile (with whom she allegedly had an affair) and shared the screen with Adriano Celentano, Enzo Cannavale, Renzo Montagnani, and Vittorio Caprioli. One thing was clear from the onset: lovely Lilli was never going to eclipse la Guida. Carati had co-starred alongside Tomas Milian in the second Nico Giraldi poliziottesco-comedy caper Hit Squad (1976) from Bruno Corbucci and played an l’insegnante in Michele Massimo Tarantini’s The Professor Of Natural Sciences (1976). It was only natural and logical that Lilli would play la liceale next. It was a rite of passage for every starlet. That happened with The Seatmate. While hardly mandatory Carati’s career was about to peak with A Night Full of Rain (1978) and To Be Twenty (1978) after which things went from bad to worse for her quite rapidly and dramatically.

Appearances in Escape from Women's Prison (1978) (with an ensemble cast including Zora Kerova, Dirce Funari, Ines Pellegrini, and Marina Daunia) and the sleazy Eurocrime actioner Vultures over The City (1981) signaled that Lilli’s days in the A-list were now very well behind her. By the the late 1970s Carati had developed addictions to alchohol, heroin and cocaine that would sideline her career. She kept in the limelight with covers on and nude spreads in Playboy (December, 1976 and September, 1978), Playmen (October, 1976), Penthouse (December, 1982) and Blitz (July and September, 1984; June, 1985 and 1986). Now blacklisted Carati was forced to look in the exploitation circuit to stay employed. It was Joe D’Amato who offered her a chance to rebuild her career. As fate would have it it was their mutual friend Jenny Tamburi who made the introductions in 1984. The rest, as they say, is history. D’Amato - a professional pornographer who frequently dabbled in exploitation and was in the habit of rescuing disgraced A-listers and employing wayward adult performers – had Lilli starring in 4 films, the first of which was The Alcove (1985). Convent Of Sinners (1986) was supposed to be a Carati vehicle too until D’Amato for reasons never made public bombarded Eva Grimaldi to lead. That it co-starred D’Amato’s other big star of the eighties Luciana Ottaviani from Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987) and Top Model (1988) probably didn’t hurt either. By 1987 and 1988 Carati did hardcore porn for Giorgio Grand with a young Rocco Siffredi.

The inevitable criminal charges followed as in May 1988 she was arrested for heroin possession landing her in jail for a few days. Having finally hit rockbottom Lilli attempted suicide on May 10, 1988 shortly after her arrest. A year later on May 1989 a severely depressed Lilli tried a second time by throwing herself from the bedroom window in her parents' house after unsuccessfully trying to get sober. Carati survived the attempt sustaining only three broken vertebrae and three months of immobility. 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. It aired as part of the Storie vere program on Rai 3 on February 25, 1994. Carati recalled her suicide attempts and subsequent recovery on Ricominciare on Rai 2 on 9 July, 2008. 2011 was supposed to be the year of Lilli’s big comeback as she was slated to appear in Luigi Pastore’s La fiaba di Dorian, a project that was shelved after Lilli was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In 2014, at age 58, disgraced and neglected, she passed away in Besano and was interred at Induno Olona cemetery in Varese, Lombardia. Pastore used the Lilli footage in what was to become Violent Shit: The Movie (2015), an ill-conceived remake that tried turning the 1989 Andreas Schnaas gore micro-epic into a giallo, of all things.

Being produced by veteran Luciano Martino (the former husband of Wandisa Guida, Edwige Fenech, and Olga Bisera) ensured that The Seatmate came bursting out of the gates with some big or semi-famous people working behind the cameras. Martino was a versatile producer who did anything from The Demon (1963) to Hands Of Steel (1986), and everything in between. Composer Gianni Ferrio was a frequent Mariano Laurenti collaborator and especially prolific in commedia sexy all'Italiana around this time. His score, while adequate and freewheeling, is nothing special. Director of photography Pasquale Rachini was something of a newcomer in 1977 still but on average he’s more hit than miss. Writing are Francesco Milizia, and Franco Mercuri who both were experienced in comedy at this point. Their screenplay is hardly the worst but it leaves a lot of plot threads unresolved: what’s the purpose of Federico and how does he enhance Simona as a character in any way? Why don’t any of Mario’s friends end up romantically entangled with Simona’s? Why introduce the Mafia don subplot when it serves no function to the mainplot? Do Mario and Simona even like each other? To its everlasting credit, The Seatmate never diverges too much from the established La Liceale (1975) formula, the comic relief from Lino Banfi and Alvaro Vitali isn’t as odious as it usually tends to be, and it even contains that classic Gloria Guida scene but here it’s Lilli Carati running about in the nude in a meadow causing all sorts of trouble. The supporting cast might not contain any name-stars but Francesca Romana Coluzzi, Ermelinda De Felice, Brigitte Petronio, and Linda Sini all were reliable second-stringers who cut their teeth in exploitation on both ends of the budget spectrum.

Ultimately The Seatmate is to the Lilli Carati repertoire what The Doctor… The Student (1976) was to the infinitely superior Gloria Guida canon: an efficient but hardly remarkable iteration of a well-trodden comedy formula. Thankfully there’s enough naked Lilli shenanigans for everyone, and she doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. What’s curious is that only after Lilli had tested the waters a spate of official La Liceale (1975) sequels were suddenly produced within a record time of just two years. As for Lilli herself – while hardly a terrible actress she was no Gloria Guida (who herself was no Edwige Fenech, Agostina Belli, Laura Antonelli, Ornella Muti, or Orchidea De Santis) but it’s not like she was ever given scripts that played up to her limited strengths. In many ways The Seatmate was a prototype for the La Liceale (1975) sequels (official and otherwise) in that it works like a well-oiled machine but never has any higher aspirations. And that’s the problem with The Seatmate. It never tries hard enough. It has all the right ingredients but it never quite knows what to do with them. A few genuine chuckles notwithstanding the humour is puerile and too often reduced to slapstick. At least Lino Banfi and Alvaro Vitali aren’t as odious as they usually are – and Lilli Carati was always one of the more exotic looking comedy vixens. It’s truly unfortunate that To Be Twenty (1978) would always remain an anomaly of sorts in her repertoire.

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.