Ruggero Deodato has had a particularly interesting directorial career, especially when compared to careers of some of his fellow Italian genre masters. While it isn’t uncommon for directors to hone their craft in a multitude of styles before cementing their legacy in a particular genre, (this is especially true of say, Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi) Deodato’s career path is nonetheless more curious than most. For starters, Deodato’s friendship with Renzo Rossellini, son of the legendary Roberto, led to Deodato learning from the master while doing second unit on some of Rossellini’s films. Deodato also made a comfortable living for himself shooting commercials, and eventually made his feature film debut, albeit uncreditied, with Hercules, Prisoner of Evil (1964). From then on he helmed a variety of films in different genres ranging from musical comedies to adventure/superhero films before taking a break from features in 1969 to concentrate on television work. It wasn’t until his return to features in the mid-70’s did Deodato enter the Italian genre market that was booming at the time and even still, Deodato’s work differed from the likes of Bava, Argento, Fulci and Martino just to name a famous few. Rather than throw his hat in the giallo ring, Deodato’s first thriller, 1975’s Waves of Lust was a sun baked Polanski-esque potboiler that really set in motion the types confrontational and pessimistic films Deodato would eventually become notorious for.
Vacationing couple Irem (Al Cliver) and Barbara (Silvia Dionisio) spot playboy George (John Steiner) and his girlfriend Silvia (Elizabeth Turner) water-skiing from a distance and are immediately intrigued by George’s demeanor and carefree attitude towards Silvia’s safety. Later in the day, Barbara encounters George and after a bit of flirting the two make plans for dinner later that night. Unbeknownst to George however it’s a ruse and all four find themselves together. Despite barely knowing each other, George invites Irem and Barbara to accompany him and Silvia on his yacht and the group set sail the next day. Almost immediately, George reveals himself to be a verbally and physically abusive tyrant, with Silvia essentially his slave. There is also an obvious attraction between Irem and Silvia as well between George and Barbara. Despite agreeing to lose all inhibitions, George’s attitude and increasingly erratic behavior become too much and it isn’t long until tension and jealousy erupt into violence.
Although nowhere near the savagery of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) or The House on the Edge of the Park (1980), Waves of Lust (Ondata di piacere) is still a nasty piece of business with Deodato’s nihilistic worldview in plain sight. It would be easy to describe Waves of Lust as simply “horrible people doing horrible things to equally horrible people”, although as is the case with Deodato nothing is ever that black and white and the shades of grey quickly become more defined. For a film that is so blunt in terms of eroticism, its also rather ambiguous when it comes to character motivations. Almost immediately its made clear that George is an insufferable bastard and his relationship with Silvia is dominant/submissive, what’s not so clear is Silvia’s true feelings on the matter. It would certainly appear that she is unhappy with the situations yet its also hinted at that she sticks around solely due to George’s wealth. What’s also left out in the open is Irem’s true feelings regarding the relationship that develops between him and Silvia. Does he truly care for her well-being or is it purely sexual? Even Irem and Barbara’s love comes into question at times with it being hinted that, despite being together, it wouldn’t be a shock if one betrayed the other. Deodato brilliantly juxtaposes the misanthropic story with the films tropical locations and nautical theme song with the claustrophobic confines of the yacht and isolation of the open sea only adding to the already uncomfortably tense mood.
At the time the film was made, Deodato and lead actress Silvia Dionisio were married. When Deodato told her he was going to direct an erotic film with plentiful nudity Dionisio objected, that was unless she had a role in the film which is essentially how she got the part despite the fact that the role of Barbara was already cast. It might seem strange to think Deodato would be uncomfortable filming anything, yet Deodato admitted that he was incredibly nervous shooting the nude scenes and actually wasn’t all that interested in making an erotic film at all but rather wanting to make a straight-forward thriller. So even if it may have been accidental, the end result wound up being a mash-up of both. Deodato also expressed some reservations about the finished film, wanting to have shot more outside of the yacht but bad weather prevented it which actually worked in the films favor as again, the confines of the yacht made for many a tense moment. Its also worth pointing out that the film was the first screenwriting credit for Lamberto Bava. Waves of Lust is a film that any Deodato fan owes it to themselves to see as it establishes the attitude Deodato would adopt for his future films and really proves that (fans of the film with immediately understand) even when viewed upside down, the world looks just as sick.