‘Stay As You Are’ Explores the Light and Dark of May-December Romances

Essentially the story of an older man’s attraction to a young college student, Stay As You Are plumbs the depths of age-disparity romances as much as it does questionable sexual practices.

A gentle, odd and moody tale of warped romance, Stay As You Are remains one of Italian great Marcello Mastroianni’s least known films in his large body of work. Released in 1978, the film also starred a young Natassja Kinski who, a year later, would go on to lead the Polanski-directed Tess, the star-making vehicle that would earn the actress a Golden Globe for best actress. Stay As You Are came and went without much fuss (despite the somewhat risqué content) and, up until now, had been considered a lost relic from either actor’s respective repertoire.

Essentially the story of an older man’s attraction to a young college student, Stay As You Are plumbs the depths of age-disparity romances as much as it does questionable sexual practices. It may be a little too generous to call this an erotic drama (the film hits erotic paydirt only in its last stretch), but there is indeed an examination on the nature of sexual attraction seen here, if a little ponderous.

When Guilio (Mastroianni), an architect, meets the young, sensuous Francesca (Kinski) in a community garden one morning, he is instantly smitten by her. Offering her a ride back home, Guilio exchanges the usual pleasantries with the flaxen-haired student, who by now has established herself as an amiable flirt. Guilio hesitates at Francesca’s playful advances, but he can’t stop thinking about her once he’s dropped her off.

It turns out Guilio is also a family man with a young pregnant daughter the same age as Francesca and a contentious wife who often feels left out of her husband’s affairs (and suspects he’s fooling around with other women). Guilio finds his homelife tiresome and a possible tryst with the compelling Francesca excites him. In a conversation with a friend, Guilio discovers that his new object of affection is in fact the daughter of a now dead lover he had many years back. This makes the aging architect a little uncomfortable. But he’s intrigued nonetheless and decides to pursue a relationship with the young woman.

In a strange and dark twist, it is revealed that Francesca may in fact be Guilio’s illegitimate daughter by his former dead lover. While this disturbing revelation certainly gives both he and his young lover pause, it certainly doesn’t prevent them from expressing their desire for one another and the two carry own toward an uncertain future.

If the subject matter sounds salacious and sensational, director Alberto Lattuada makes a point of steering clear of any tasteless trash. Rather, the film explores the details of both a ruined marriage and blossoming love affair (incest angle included) in a lilting and deliberate manner. There is an autumnal presence to the story which suggests a point of transition for these leading characters. The ordeal of the affair is not conveyed through shock tactics but rather laid out methodically. Once we find out about Guilio’s and Francesca’s possible blood relations, it’s a curious moment that comes quietly. This is down to Mastroianni’s sensitive delivery, which at all times promises safety and reassurance for both his onscreen lover and the viewing audience.

Kinski, who was still relatively new to acting in this film, manages to create a woman who seems vibrant and full of ingenuity, despite her lack of acting experience. Her ability to hold her own against a veteran like Mastroianni is remarkable and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Kinski has a vivacious beauty that is easy on the eyes.

The Blu-ray transfer from Cult Epics is certainly an issue. The image was ported from a DIGIBETA, the only known existing master of the film. Cult Epics has done everything to clean up the picture considerably. Judging from their other releases, they normally come up trumps when it comes to transfers and do a commendable job in restoring long forgotten films. Therefore, it’s quite apparent that Cult Epics did everything they could with the only material they had on hand; rather than leave an obscure film to languish in the vaults, they opted to put it out even with its flaws. That said, the transfer does sport some serious compromises in quality; the picture is soft and colours are faded. But it still isn’t as bad as one might expect.

There are two audio tracks: an original Italian dub and an English one. The English dub has better sound clarity – but stay clear from it; the English dubbing is very poorly done and simply cannot capture the emotional nuances of the Italian track, which is by far the better. There is a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone included on the disc, which is quite nice to hear, plus a film trailer. The supplements are nothing too fancy.

Stay As You Are isn’t exactly the scandalous piece of trash that some might expect from its dubious premise. Both actors walk a careful and respectful balance, never allowing their characters to slip into the dangerous terrains of exploitation and there is some satisfaction in watching Mastroianni work studiously at his craft. This is certainly a lesser film in either actor’s catalogue of work, but it stands as a curious effort – one that shows the young Kinski in the beginning moments of her career and Mastroianni just rounding the curve in the arc of his own career as he shifts into middle age.

It’s too easy to bemoan the quality of the transfer, but you may feel better about it when you realize that, like many other releases in their catalogue, Stay As You Are is a film Cult Epics dared to salvage when many other home video companies simply couldn’t be bothered. If erotic dramas are your thing, see this for the performances.

RATING 7 / 10
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