The popularity of the circus reached its height during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An excitable public went seeking spectacular marvels and freak shows were a staple. These sideshows usually featured a bearded lady. Julia Pastrana was born with a genetic condition, hypertrichosis terminalis, which meant she was covered with thick black hair. She was exploited by her manager, Theodore Lent. The Ape Woman is based on her story.
Focaccia (Ugo Tognazzi) is an entrepreneur, entertainer and trickster who has a lucky break when he discovers Maria (Annie Girardot) working as a scullery maid in a convent. The shy woman, covered in hair, hides away from the taunts of society. The wily manipulator sports a money-spinner and persuades her to partner in a ‘theatre act’ with him. She plays the ‘ape woman’ and must degrade herself for him and there’s nothing he won’t do for money.
The 4k restoration is a second chance, as such, for The Ape Woman. Cut by Italian censors upon release, the ‘happy ending’ version went on to be nominated for a Palme D’or at Cannes. Cinema’s bad-boy Marco Ferreri takes his anger out on this grotesque form of exploitation, which was encouraged by society. Girardot is fantastic. There a scene where she’s swinging from a tree which is priceless. The Ape Woman is a cynical tale about the depths some men will stoop to for self-enrichment.
An exclusive 90-minute documentary on Marco Ferreri featuring Gerard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Christopher Lambert and Ornella Muti.
The Ape Woman is released on Blu-ray and on digital by Cult Films on 11 October.