Were this film stripped of its trappings as a European art piece, it would stand revealed as the salacious story of a middle-aged man who cheats on his wife with a troubled young woman, even though circumstantial evidence suggests he might be the young woman’s father. Yes, Stay As You Are tackles the serious issues of adultery, betrayal, and incest by way of a glossy presentation that extensively showcases costar Nastassja Kinski sans clothing. Stay As You Are is a fairly credible movie, inasmuch as the philandering protagonist experiences an existential crisis, so it’s not as if the filmmakers pat him on the back for sleeping with his maybe-daughter. Still, despite a romantic score by Ennio Morricone and a jaunty performance by leading man Marcello Mastraoianni, Kinski’s formidable sexual power is the focus. She’s mesmerizing whenever she’s onscreen, whether dressed or not, even though her performance is tentative.
Cowritten and directed by Alberto Lattuada, Stay As You Are stars Mastroianni as Giulio, an Italian architect who meets a schoolgirl named Francesca (Kinski) while traveling on business. Despite learning that he knew Francesca’s late mother and therefore might be her biological father, Giulio hides his suspicions from the young woman even as she flirts with him—and even as he (weakly) resists his lust for her. After the movie’s turgid middle passage, during which Giulio faces various family issues (“A frigid wife, a whoring husband, a pregnant daughter, and now an abortion for the grand finale!”), Giulio succumbs to temptation by taking Francesca to a hotel in Madrid for sex—lots and lots of sex. Francesca turns out to be a piece of work, at one point serving Giulio a cup filled with her own urine, and the story eventually moves in a bittersweet direction.
Beyond its questionable psychosexual content, Stay As You Are has a few genuine cinematic virtues. The naturalistic cinematography by José Luis Alcaine is quite beautiful (some shots of Kinski, her long hair illuminated by the sun, are breathtaking), and Lattuada generates rich atmosphere with scenes of the artist-refuge neighborhood where Kinski’s character lives with an equally nubile roommate, who also, inexplicably, tries to seduce Mastraoinnani’s character. (The degree of male wish-fulfillment on display here is extraordinary.) In the end, Stay As You Are is probably half legitimate drama and half sex fantasy, which means it’s neither disposable softcore nor a truly lofty rumination on desire. It’s a grown-up movie that most viewers will seek out only for the purpose of reveling in Kinski’s beauty. (Available from www.CultEpics.com)
Stay as You Are: FUNKY