In adapting Alexandre Dumas' timeless and oft-filmed tale of doomed courtesan Marguerite Gautier as an eye-popping vision of a decadent near future filtered through late '60s rose-tinted glasses, Radley Metzger created a full-fledged kitsch masterpiece that got him some of the best reviews of his entire career. Underneath its colorfully campy exterior however beats a warm heart, courtesy of its central romance treated with surprising delicacy, beautifully acted by both leads. Best known for his jeune premier turn in Jacques Demy's innovative French musical THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, handsome Nino Castelnuovo makes for a dashing yet vulnerable Armand. Gorgeous Danièle Gaubert - whose life would tragically parallel her character's, passing away at the age of 44 in 1987 - proves much more than an outrageously attired fashion plate, breathing life into the seemingly shallow party girl everyone covets but no one can truly possess. It was to be the undisputed highlight of a brief and disappointing career that ended with George Englund's ludicrous suspense on the slopes crime drama SNOW JOB in 1972, that lowly potboiler's sole merit being Gaubert's meeting with Olympic ski champ Jean-Claude Killy, her husband until her untimely death.
The familiar story has been moved from Paris to Rome though original French character names have been somewhat illogically retained. Kept woman to an elderly Duke, flighty Marguerite's the toast of the jet set when she catches the eye of Armand Duval, in town to meet up with his absent industrialist father, played by the excellent Massimo Serato whose best work was still ahead of him, performing creepy character turns in underrated "gialli" like Armando Crispino's AUTOPSY and Antonio Bido's BLOODSTAINED SHADOW. Although his friend Gaston (Roberto Bisacco who had portrayed Paris in Franco Zeffirelli's ROMEO AND JULIET and would go on to star in Sergio Martino's terrific TORSO) tries to dissuade him, he's already smitten. Touched by his sincerity but harboring a deep dark secret, the professional mistress takes him under her wing while simultaneously attempting to avoid emotional involvement. Dazzling use of multiple mirrors during their extended lovemaking sequences has been met with both delight and derision, a bold mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous which effectively places the film almost beyond camp, still dating it as a product of its excessive decade.
Naturally, things have to go wrong at some stage. Having fallen in love for the first time, Marguerite starts pawning off her expensive jewelry in order to keep her unwitting boyfriend in the manner he's accustomed to. Their romantic seaside holiday's rudely interrupted by Armand's dad who believes her to be a gold-digger until she defiantly confronts him with evidence to the contrary, surely Gaubert's finest acting moment in the entire film, albeit closely followed by the traditionally noble suffering once her health goes south. Convinced by his father that Armand would be better off without her, Marguerite pretends she no longer cares about him which only sends him scurrying towards her erstwhile rival Olympe, played by voluptuous Silvana Venturelli whose finest hour came in Metzger's LICKERISH QUARTET the following year. These shifting affections give way to one of the most amazing sequences in the director's entire body of work, a hedonistic S&M party thrown by Olympe with Armand taunting his former lover, shackled to the latest in a long line of aristocratic "sponsors" (Philippe Forquet's Comte De Varville), by disrobing and doing the hostess in plain view ! Dramatic lighting galvanizes Venturelli's sensational curves, cavorting amid certifiably crazy set design by Enrico Sabbatini whose operatic sense of grandeur would similarly illuminate Dario Argento's elusive FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET.
Every aspect of CAMILLE 2000 breathes absolute opulence, from the eternal city's timeless locations given a velvet sheen by revered cinematographer who shot Vittorio De Sica's GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINI'S and Zeffirelli's BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON to the alternately groovy and lushly romantic score by Piero Piccioni of Lina Wertmüller's SWEPT AWAY fame. Though Metzger's movies played respectable first run venues, they're frequently lumped together in hindsight with the rest of the decade's "adults only" cinema, including the sort of sleazy no budget sexploitation that can't even begin to compare, not just where the budget's concerned but in terms of directorial talent or dedication. While a surfeit of surface gloss forces the film uncomfortably close to fashionista fascism at times, Metzger's mercurial meticulousness saves the day, his sensitivity as both filmmaker and story-teller extending to the inclusion of an openly gay character portrayed in a for the time uncommonly sympathetic light, dress designer Gody (one shot Zachary Adams), one of Marguerite's few friends to show genuine concern as her health deteriorates.