A bitterly ironic and slyly subversive Italian sex comedy, Alberto Lattuada’s Come Have Coffee With Us mostly succeeds in spite of its languishing pace. Ugo Tognazzi stars as Emerenziano Paronzini, a middle-aged tax inspector who senses an opportunity when a wealthy naturalist dies, leaving behind three daughters. None of the three are conventionally attractive, but Emerenziano marries the oldest, Fortunata (Angela Goodwin), anyway — ostensibly for the money.
As the film proceeds, that inherited wealth becomes much less of an issue, and Emerenziano’s appetites are clearly directed elsewhere, including the other two daughters, Tarsilla (Francesca Romana Coluzzi) — lanky, with a prominent mole — and Camilla (Milena Vukotic) — shy and mousy. Fresh off the honeymoon, he initiates systematic affairs with his sisters-in-law.
The only thing that inflames his appetite equally is food — Lattuada shoots several mealtimes with grotesque, fractured close-ups that mirror his sex scenes — and when Emerenziano salvages the good portions of three rotten apples to make one suitable piece of fruit, he may as well be spelling out his romantic strategy.
There’s a subtle comic energy that pairs nicely with the over-the-top grotesquerie of the characters, but it takes a while for the film to really kick into gear. After a dramatic, Italian horror-styled prologue in which the naturalist father is shown keeling over in his greenhouse, the film settles in and doesn’t get to Emerenziano’s marriage until after the halfway point.
Lattuada also seems to get distracted with a number of ancillary characters, including a disapproving priest and Tarsilla’s ne’er-do-well boyfriend, Paolino (Jean-Jacques Fourgeaud). In his remarks on the film included in the DVD’s extras, scholar Adriano Aprà likens these characters to audience ciphers, watching the film’s events unfold in a semi-voyeuristic manner. While Lattuada is clearly aiming for something more incisive than a frothy sex comedy here, these diversions seem to trip up the pace more than add thematic weight.
In a slightly rushed climax, we witness Emerenziano’s sexual appetite — which has grown to absurd heights — get the better of him, as he turns his attention to the housekeeper, Caterina (Valentine), a pretty blonde who he’s not quite ready for. In the end, the male libido is reduced to a smashed ice cream cone on the pavement, in a bit of on-the-nose symbolism about man’s grotesque cravings.
The Raro Video DVD of the film, working from a 35mm camera negative, presents a splendidly clean and vibrant 1.66:1 transfer of the film, which has long been unavailable in the U.S. The aforementioned Aprà interview runs just over 12 minutes, and he further explicates Lattuada’s career in a lengthy essay in the included booklet. Also featured in the booklet are excerpts of reviews from the film’s original release and a brief biography of the director.