Sensual, Risqué Danger Abounds in the Italian Desire Guest House



There’s no telling where the day will take you.  That is, unless you’re a fictional character in an author’s pages.  In that case, where the day takes you is entirely in the telling.  For the curious but naïve Anny (Clio Goldsmith), this goes double, as she is not only a character in her writer’s manuscript; beyond that, she is also a character in this movie.  That, of course, goes for everyone else as well in Honey (Miele di donna), director Gianfranco Angelucci’s 1981 double-layered lightly erotic Italian curio.  

While not at all the onion-skinned mind-stretcher of Wes Anderson’s Asteroid CityHoney does share some aspect of internal creative frustration and cloistered anxiety.  Closer to the mark, though, is Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, with its framework of the central story playing out visually for us as long as the “real world” reader keeps reading.  When they disengage from their book, our focus must, by default, revert to them looking up from it, likely providing a reader’s commentary of sorts.  In the case of publishing house editor Fernando Rey, this film’s Peter Falk, he’s doing so at gunpoint.

It’s Catherine Spaak playing the nameless woman holding the pistol and who wrote the manuscript in question.  Her book is a sexy deep-sleep dream of Anny’s stay at a mysterious overpowering hotel.  This story, as envisioned by Angelucci, presents the hotel with compelling mystery.  At first the place is elusive, hard to spot from the street for a first timer such as her.  But once it’s pointed out, sure enough, there it is in blue neon: “Pensione Desiderio”, “Desire Guest House”.  She’d been looking for it, but should she…?  Once Anny inevitably gets inside, she finds it has a “you can check in any time you want, but you can never leave” vibe about it.  (The Devil, you say!)

With the small and distracted staff taking their old sweet time to get Anny a room of her own, she’s left to wander the labyrinthian hallways.  More than once she gives in to her overwhelming curiosity to peek inside of other people’s rooms.  She must go out of her way to do so, climbing atop wardrobes and hiding in closets.  The temperamental maid (Adriana Russo) and the domineering landlady (Donatella Damiani), both trading on their allure, simultaneously condemn and condone this.  The most enticing resident for Anny is the strange occupant (a well-chiseled and animal-eyed Luc Merenda) of strange athletic male boudoir, candlelit and full of sporting equipment.  Who is el hombre de la habitación?  We may never know.

There’s an oneirically compelling nature to the plentiful nudity that graces Honey, more reflective of a Czech “adult fairy tale” (ala, say, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) than a typically blunt chauvinistic Italian sex comedy.  In such, despite the film’s racy poster (and by extension, Blu-ray cover art), this brief (eighty-nine minutes in length) venture exists to be explored, not leered at.  This holds true even as Honey’s top-to-bottom themes of voyeurism play out unabated.  In the De Palma sense, we watch the watchers who watch what they shouldn’t be watching.  At one point, Anny finds herself buck naked and trapped under a bed as a randy couple get busy on it.  Angelucci keeps the focus of the scene squarely on her, not on the lovers atop.

Meanwhile, we can never truly settle into anything, as the story outside the story is a hostage situation.  When it comes down to it, we have an author so desperate to have her words considered that she forced an editor to sit and make his way through it on his day off.  (Good thing for her the office is closed and otherwise empty).  Or… is there another angle in play…?  

As one might expect, a surreal-lite venture such as this revels in the freedom to leave many of its questions unanswered.  The only nagging one, however, is why the heck it’s called “Honey”.  No one in it is named Honey, nor is honey ever poured, glimpsed, tasted or mentioned.  It should be called “Desire Guest House”, no?  Whatever the case, Italian film boutique label Raro Video has ushered Honey onto Blu-ray (via Kino Lorber) with its original Italian audio, English subtitles, a sumptuous transfer, but exactly zero bonus features.  If, however, this kind of thing is your bag, you’ll find the disc a sweet treat, nonetheless.  After all, while they say sexiness is in the eye of the beholder, with Honey, it’s in the eyes of anyone who watches it.