A cute prostitute is dropped off by an offscreen client one evening, a little perturbed by the scratches he has left on her flesh. But the client pays handsomely and the girl is left well compensated. However, this doesn't stop her lying to the client a few days later when he rings her, asking her to join him for the weekend. She feigns illness to avoid the tryst.

And so, enter journalist Maria (Dagmar Lassander, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) who is assigned the task of reporting on behalf of millionaire businessman Sayer's (Phillipe Leroy, A MAN CALLED BLADE) campaign into research related to contraception and sterility. She opposes his chauvinistic views on the matter, yet agrees to visit him at home one evening to discuss the subject further.

Once settled in Sayer's gloriously psychedelic abode, Maria agrees to a glass of Scotch - which isn't wise, as Sayer's drugged it. When Maria next awakens, she's shackled in a darkened room with her arms raised above her head. And so the abusive rituals begin …

Sayer waxes lyrical about the evils of women and how they are trying to conquer what is essentially a man's world. All the while, Maria simply looks scared and bewildered - actually asking him on a couple of occasions what the Hell he's talking about. But his rants continue, as he explains that he is holding Maria at his home over the weekend to act as his slave. It's here that we learn the prostitute he originally had in mind for this ordeal couldn't make it, because she fell ill …

Sayer's bile towards women continues unabated as he displays authority over his quarry, ripping Maria's dress and prodding her naked flesh with one of his prized swords (oh, the phallic symbolism). Even when she tries to escape down a dark alley, he corners her with his car and forces her back indoors.

When Maria awakes the following morning, she finds herself in a bed beside Sayer's. Curiously, she takes to Sayer and it looks like the pair are about to get it on … only, Sayer wants to watch Maria get jiggy with a life-sized doll replica of himself. Initially resistant, Maria soon complies when Sayer's threats of violence become increasingly convincing.

That morning, Sayer continues his crusade to win Maria's submission by telling her he has killed several women previously and she too will eventually die by his hands. He even subjects her to photographs of his previous conquests, just to reinforce his point.

As the humiliations persist, Maria begins to realise that she must manipulate her position as the female if she is to stand a chance of reversing her fortune. She begins her plight with a bizarre dance/striptease act atop Sayer's dining room tables, and from thereon in her relationship with her captor starts to alter …

WOMAN is an odd - and oddly compelling - film that works best as a visual feast. The colourful set designs and art décor of Sayer's home are nothing short of stunning, as is director Piero Schivazappa's (LADY OF THE NIGHT) keen eye for immaculately considered compositions or positioning of characters and objects for maximum effect. It's fair to say that on an aesthetic level, WOMAN is a tour-de-force of imaginative low-budget studio design along the lines of MOJU.

The storyline is little more than a series of S&M vignettes that serve not so much as a plot but a central theme loosely holding the flimsy frame together. It matters not: the first ten minutes of the film had me wondering what on Earth was going on, but as it evolved it all fell into place - and didn't really mean that much in the greater scheme of things anyway.

Lassander and Leroy (whose performance is vaguely homosexual [his fear of femininity; his obsessive physical self-attention]) offer solid performances, but play second fiddle to the chic late 1960's interiors and kinky fetishist set-pieces. Having said that, it's a joy to see Lassander in a younger role.

Despite the plot not seeming as though it has anywhere to go, I did find the denouement satisfying: it made me want to watch the film again. And although I haven't had that privilege yet, I intend to rectify that in the near future - I look forward to a second dose of the nudity, the sublime décor, the gorgeous costume design and the inventive, original score from Stelvio Cipriani (NIGHTMARE CITY; DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS).

Shameless' disc is an absolute treat. Although light on extras, this DVD is special purely for the lengths Shameless have gone to restore the film to it's most complete version yet (with the help of Marc Morris) … it even comes with Schivazappa's personal seal of approval on the cover.

To this end, Shameless issue a text disclaimer at the beginning of the film, advising that some changes in quality may be evident during the film. This is due to various sources being used. Although the quality changes are indeed noticeable they're not that frequent. They don't last too long either, and Shameless are being modest - the quality may differ in these brief scenes from the overall presentation, but it's never bad. Plus, considering much of the restored content consists of some of the film's strongest material, I'd much rather have it here.

The overall image quality of this 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is stunning - vibrant, bright and sharp with no evident grain. It's a great presentation.

The English mono audio track is clear and consistent throughout. Another fine job.

A static scene-selection menu allows access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

The only extras on the disc are the usual selection of trailers for other Shameless titles. There is, of course, their standard trailer for WOMAN too.

Not an extra but always worth a mention, the disc is also graced with beautiful double-sided cover art. For purists, the title FEMINA RIDENS features on the reverse cover and spine. This is also the onscreen title on the film itself.

Having not seen WOMAN before, I was deeply impressed with it. It comes highly recommended. And this disc from Shameless is an absolute treasure when it comes to being uncut (or as uncut as the film will most likely ever be) and looking absolutely stunning. Brilliant.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Shameless
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review