Jun 11, 2013


While effeminate gay Jews aren’t hard to find in cinema, especially in Hollywood, Italian films, especially of the melodramatically ironic sort, featuring homo Hebrews are not exactly common place, yet the Guido coming-of-age flick Ernesto (1979) directed by Salvatore Samperi (Malicious aka Malizia, The Corruption aka La bonne) was once regarded as one of the greatest fag-themed flicks ever made, but like most of the director’s work, has fallen into relatively obscurity. Not unlike his fellow iconoclastic ginny auteur countryman Alberto Cavallone (Le salamandre, Zelda), controversial director Salvatore Samperi made a number of strikingly subversive and underrated works like Mother's Heart (1969) aka Cuore di mamma, Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It (1970) aka Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo, Submission (1976) aka Scandalo, and a variety of other erotically aberrant arthouse flicks (as well as some less interesting wop ‘sex comedies’), but is virtually totally unknown now, with Ernesto being arguably his most well known and critically revered work, even earning one of its stars, popular proletarian actor/director Michele Placido (an actor on the Italian TV series La Piovra), the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 29th Berlin International Film Festival. Based on the 1953 (but not published until 1975, long after the author’s death) unfinished autobiographical novel of the same name written by Italian Jew poet/novelist Umberto Saba, who rather ironically once wrote for a newspaper owned by Benito Mussolini but faced some persecution during the Second World War due to his stern refusal to convert to Catholicism, Ernesto tells the curious coming-of-age tale set in 1911 Trieste, Italy of a 17-year-old Jewish bastard named Ernesto of the quasi-commie persuasion who finds his sexual awakening in the form of a butch and buff yet tender stableboy with a leather-fag mustache who introduces him to, among other things, sodomy. Of course, all good things must cum to an end and socialist ideologist Ernesto, a social-climber like the goyish gentile father who left him a bastard before he was even born, inevitably realizes that marrying a rich and sexually androgynous debutante will be the best move he can make for his future, thus leaving the blue collar grease-ball hunk who took his anal virginity a sad victim of capitalist exploitation. Described by Canadian gay far-leftist agitator/film critic Thomas Waugh as follows, “as a sketch of the dynamics of a cross-generational and interclass relationship and of the rites of gay initiation, Ernesto is masterful. It is also, if you look, a profound analysis of the politics of family and social control, and within the relationship, of the politics of role playing, bum fucking, and power. As if that were not enough, Samperi has provided a suggestive speculation on what the gay subculture must have been like in Mediterranean society eighty years ago,” Ernesto is ultimately a satirical leftist critique of (kosher) capitalism disguised as a coming-of-age cock-sucker flick that reminds one why ‘Italians do it better,’ even in regard to cliche Marxist bullshit. 

 Ernest (Bavarian actor Martin Halm) is a 17-year-old poser socialist of the cynical and self-satisfied sort who has just graduated high school and feels on top of the world as he struts around in a bitching bowler hat, watch chain, and dandy cane, but he is also totally sexually inexperienced and wants to wait until he is 18 to share carnal pleasure with a nice Italian girl. Aside from his loving mother (Virna Lisi), Ernesto is an object of contempt and scorn among his Jewish merchant family, especially his religious uncle Giovanni (Francisco Marsó) who has little hope for the boy because, after all, as he states himself, “he’s the son of a man who became a Jew for money” (as history has proven, the situation is typically the reverse).  Ernesto’s uncle also has no problem telling his nephew that the first time he saw the boy's father, he thought “that goy is a bastard,” thus expressing contempt for and a sense of superiority over gentiles, surely a rare occurrence in any film, be it gay or otherwise. Indeed, after Ernesto’s mother got pregnant with him, her husband ran off, thus disgracing her and the family in the process and leaving a 1/2 goy black sheep to constantly remind them of this fact. Of course, Ernesto has zero tolerance for his Uncle’s kosher contempt and reads the socialist publication “The Worker” in protest, even telling his family members, “I hope the socialists take over and hang you” during a Jewish ceremony. Not one to get his hands dirty as an effete member of the bourgeois (his aunt describes him as having a “socialist tongue with a capitalist stomach”), Ernesto takes a job as a clerk in a warehouse owned and run by a fellow Judaic named Signor Carlo Wilder (Turi Ferro) and ultimately takes his revenge on his family by passively allowing himself to be buggered by a low-wage worker simply named “The Man” (Michele Placido), who tells his partner-in-cocksucking-crime “Do you know what it is like to be a friend of a guy like me?” Indeed, turn-of-the-century Italy has serious sanctions against sodomy that even force a big businessman to commit suicide after he is caught with a young boy, so it does not take long for Ernesto to reconsider his future as a man who allows himself to be rectally probed by other men. After randomly paying a beauteous diva of a prostitute for a couple minutes of her time, Ernesto loses his heterosexual virginity and realizes he is more 'sexually versatile' than he once thought and reconsiders his options in terms of his sexuality and social prestige. An aspiring violinist, Ernesto ultimately quits his job (largely because he wants to get away from “The Man”) and starts a little romance with a rather naive and sexually androgynous 15-year-old bourgeois boy from a family of considerable social prestige named Ilio (Lara Wendel), but it is ultimately the boy’s fiesty twin sister Rachele (also played by Lara Wendel) who the up-and-coming Jewish commie-turned-capitalist marries. As the “wedding will make up for her marriage,” Ernesto complacently agrees to marry Rachele in respect to his mother, who ruined the family’s reputation due to marrying a goy that left her with a bastard ½ Jewish son about two decades before. In the end, high Hebrew society and kosher capitalism trump genuine sensuality and individuality for the gay commie turned closest-cast capitalist Ernesto, a boy who once idealistically stated “prostitutes are the victims of a bourgeois society,” yet patronizingly penetrates one for a couple shekels. 

 Compared to one of his absurdist avant-garde masterpieces like Mother's Heart (1969) aka Cuore di mamma, Ernesto is not exactly the most controversial Salvatore Samperi flick, though its unflattering depiction of the early twentieth century Italian Jewish bourgeois might lead some to think that Il Duce and Uncle Adolf were correct in their estimation of European Jewry and its exploitation of indigenous populations. Undoubtedly, Ernesto is a sensitively handled, if not equally sardonic, and culturally respectful period piece quite unlike the culturally mongrelized celluloid sort the perennial cosmopolitans of Hollywood churn out. A criminally underrated master of aberrant arthouse eroticism, Ernesto is certainly typical of Salvatore Samperi oeuvre, although the film clearly had a larger budget and was made palatable for a larger audience than some of his earlier works, even as a melodramatic Katzenfresser work that deals with Hebraic homosexuality. Featuring a mischling Marxist who has no problem calling his fellow Hebrews “shylocks” and being anally penetrated by proletarians poofs, Ernesto is a rare work with gay themes that will appeal to both the hopelessly politically incorrect libertines as well as anally retentive socialist sodomites like Thomas Waugh, which is no small achievement. As a man who is known for directing films about young boys who become obsessed with older and exhibitionistic women, Samperi was certainly not a ‘queer’ filmmaker, which was certainly to the benefit of Ernesto, a timeless coming-of-age flick that shows how a young man, as so many young men do, goes from being a rebellious idealist to a complacent social cuckold when reality penetrates him harder and deeper than any blue collar worker’s blue-veined custard chucker could. 

-Ty E

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