Simona (Patrick Longchamps) at Cinema Nova

Last friday’s “mystery movie” at Cinema Nova turned out to be Simona, directed by the Belgian cineast Patrick Longchamps and based on the novel “l’Histoire de l’oeil” by George Bataille. As things go this was the first, but also the last movie Patrick Longchamps ever made – A later attempt to make a Hollywood-remake of Simona that never reached the theatres would break his carreer. The movie was shot in 1966 or 1967 in Italian, as the Italian film-industry back then was the best of Europe. As Patrick Longchamps, who was present at the screening at Cinema Nova (the last time he saw his movie was 20 years ago) said himself: “Back in those days you just couldn’t find the necessary skills to shoot this kind of movie in Belgium – Except maybe for the (Belgian) sound-engineers, who made quite an impression on the Italian filmcrew”. Most references on the web seem to date the movie somewhere between 1972 and 1978 though – As the movie has a long history of distribution problems, and had its share of problems with the censorship committee who dissaproved with the movies “too explicit” content – Patrick Longchamps said that the fact that the movie ever got shown in Italy (the only country where it ever got shown) was largely due to the fiat of the vatican: a friend, or co-worker of Patrick Longchamps, had connections within the vatican and organised a private screening for a selected audience of 4 priests in one of the backrooms of the vatican. Patrick Longchamps said that after the movie (that, even in its censored version, contains some scenes that you can hardly call “in favour” for the clergy) one of the priests came up to him and said the movie was very “christian”. Another coincidence that helped this movie was that the actress playing Simona (Laura Antonelli) was discovered by the audience in another movie, and that lots of people were drawn to the theatre because “Simona” got billboarded as “Laura Antonelli’s first movie” (causing lots of illegal copies circulating in the south of Italy). The copy we got to see in Cinema Nova was transferred from an original (and quite battered) 35mm reel that served in the theatres to Betacam by the Nova-crew itself who also added french subtitles to it, which came in quite handy. The movie itself is quite good, “l’Histoire de l’oeil” filmed in Fellini-style (Patrick Longchamps said that he had had the chance to observe Fellini on a filmset during a couple of days, an experience during which he learned more than in several years spent at school), with a touch of typical Belgian surrealism (notably in the scenes filmed at the Belgian coast, that have a certain Magritte and Delvaux-feel). While watching the movie I had to think of the Zoom-magazine, a french art-magazine from the seventies and late sixties, focusing on avant-garde film and photography. Googling on “Simona” and “Patrick Longchamps” revealed that there’s a DVD-version out and available (but only with italian and spanish subtitles), most probably an illegal release, as the copy, film and exploitation rights on the original novel of Bataille are in American hands, one of the two reasons which make it difficult to get this movie in circulation again (the second one being the fact that the original negatives, necessary to make a new, clean, copy are hold “captive” in the safe of an Italian film-lab). Picture below is of that DVD-release, the sleeve is quite horrible and cheaply done, solely aimed at selling as many copies as possible by stressing the “erotic” character of the movie.

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