Virgin Territory

Virgin Territory (2008)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Mischa Barton, Tim Roth
Extras: Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Trailer, Still Gallery

Well, here is a colossal fiasco. "Virgin Territory" is the egregious title of many that were considered for this adaptation of "The Decameron, " a novel by 14th century Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio that featured 100 bawdy tales of sex, deception, and religious hypocrisy against the backdrop of the Black Death. A noted influence on other literary works, including Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," "The Decameron" was memorably adapted for the screen in 1971 by Pier Paolo Pasolini. His version featured eight stories from the novel, all possessing an irreverent sense of humor and a frankness that made the film consistently entertaining. In this new film, directed by David Leland and produced by the often lambasted Dino De Laurentiis, only one of Boccaccio's 100 stories has been adapted and sluggishly expanded to feature length.

Based on the tale of a young man who pretends to be a deaf-mute in order to be hired as the gardener at a convent of young nuns so that he may sleep with them (all the while allowing them to believe that they are seducing him), "Virgin Territory" pits Hayden Christensen in the central role of Lorenzo, a young Florentine whose gambling forces him to flee the city in escape from Gerbino (Tim Roth), a murderous lord. Seeking refuge in a nuns' convent, he quickly feigns deafness, drawing great sympathy and lustful desires from the beautiful nuns who use him as their private sex object.

Meanwhile, the recently orphaned Pampinea (Mischa Barton), a wealthy beauty whom Lorenzo secretly loves, also flees the city when Gerbino attempts to force her into marriage. She and several friends (all virgins, or so they say) make way to her father's villa where she will wait for her arranged fiancé to arrive. Wanting to resist temptation and retain her chastity, however, Pampinea temporarily joins the convent where Lorenzo is working, eventually falling for him in spite of her marriage plans.

Filmed in 2005, "Virgin Territory" apparently sat on the shelf for three years before finally receiving a theatrical release in Europe. It deservedly went straight to DVD in the U.S. Although set in the Middle Ages, the film has not a shred of authenticity about it. With free use of contemporary music and slang, the filmmakers apparently were striving for a deliberately anachronistic telling, à la "A Knight's Tale" (2001), but instead it just seems like a watered-down, high school interpretation. It is telling that the movie was released in France under another ludicrous title, "Medieval Pie." The abundant sexual situations in the film have more in common with teen sex comedies than with Boccaccio's original novel. They lack the sense of danger and subversiveness, not to mention the playfulness, of both the original work and Pasolini's film.

Part of what made Pasolini's version work so well was his casting of non-professional actors. His cast was made up of rather ordinary-looking and sometimes downright unattractive people who truly evoked the flavor of the 14th century. They were earthy, usually had bad teeth, and seemed untouched by modern conveniences. By contrast, this film's principle actors look like supermodels. They are all so beautiful and clean that they have no period flavor to speak of. Mischa Barton looks as though she just stepped off of the set of "The O.C." and into period dress. When the nuns shed their habits, we are not shocked by their abandonment of their holy vows because they do not seem like nuns to begin with. They are just hot chicks dressing the part.

Most of the sex scenes revolve around the supporting players, particularly those played by Kate Groombridge, Rosalind Halstead, and Christopher Egan. I do not remember their characters' names, and in all honesty, they really don't matter. What is important is that their sex scenes are not the least bit sexy and feature some of the worst seduction lines I have heard in ages. At one point, Egan performs a sex act with a milk maid and a cow (yes, you read that correctly). These scenes play more like bad soft-core porn than the bawdy ribaldry that Boccaccio intended. While he wrote of lusty or wicked folks who committed genuinely naughty acts of adultery, the characters in the film are just naïve kids who don't know what the hell they're doing, making their experiences more embarrassing than anything else.

What cements the film's utter worthlessness is the complete lack of charisma in the two leads. Christensen and Barton are lifeless onscreen. Their attempts at British accents are laughable, Christensen is whiney when he should be heroic, and Barton appears ready to doze off at any time. They both amazingly fail to change their facial expressions for the entire duration. The scenes in which Christensen pretends to be mute might have been his only good moments, but even here he is totally inadequate. The fun of the original story was always that the gardener was secretly taking advantage of the nuns while pretending to be the innocent victim. There is no sense of control or deceit in Christensen's performance. He just seems to be there, as do the rest of the cast members, beautiful bodies without brains or souls.

Anchor Bay has brought "Virgin Territory" to DVD in a perfectly respectable 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, enhanced for 16×9 TVs. The admittedly nice (only nice) location photography looks great in a clear and crisp image. There may be a shade of grain in some of the darker scenes, but in general this is a fine transfer, with good color saturation and natural skin tones.

A Dolby Digital 5.1 track does a nice job with the audio, producing clear vocals and smooth presentation of the music. Not much goes on outside of the film's action climax, so there is little to really take note of here. English captions are also available.

A 12-minute featurette, "Behind the Scenes of Virgin Territory," gets the special features going. Some interviews with cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage are featured, although there is nothing very informative here. It's pretty obvious that everyone involved believed they were making something very special. They didn't, so this feature is rather useless.

Up next are four minutes of "Censored Scenes of Sexuality." These extended nude scenes, including one full-frontal, are very rough-looking and not too interesting either. They add nothing to the story.

An additional extended scene with British character actor David Walliams doing more of his shtick (he makes a mildly amusing cameo in the film) turns up next.

A trailer and still gallery of Roberto Cavalli's costume designs round out the disc.

When it comes to missed opportunities, it really doesn't get any more disappointing than this. "Virgin Territory" is based on a book filled with stories of sex and debauchery, and yet it somehow manages not only to not be sexy, but neither witty nor engaging on any level. Where Pasolini's film was fresh and alive, this one is flat and generic. If they had not proven so already, Hayden Christensen and Mischa Barton solidify that they are nothing more than pretty faces, and even that is debatable as they can both look rather dull and sullen for such high-profile heartthrobs. There is nothing of interest here, and I never thought I would say that about a film with sex-crazed nuns.