In a tables-turning take on "The Collector" (aka "the book that launched a thousand serial killers"), Sayer's evil intentions are undone once Maria works her feminine wiles on him. Just as he's about to dispatch her in melodramatic style, he hesitates. He reveals his motives to her and in a Stockholm Syndrome role reversal, Sayer finds himself attached to his captive and opens himself to the possibility of falling in love with Maria. The power roles swapped, we're now given a montage of romantic romps in the countryside, dinner at a historical castle (complete with liveried little person in attendance!), and risqué activities in a convertible car. The camera reappears, this time capturing Sayer in its lens, and thereby showing him to be the vulnerable party. By the time Maria tells Sayer about how a cat fell in love with her as a little girl, even the audience almost believes her.
Whose obsessions will crumble, and who will emerge the victor in this battle of the sexes? Or is this a love-match between two damaged souls? I was kept guessing until the final twist of an ending that ties things up even more neatly than I'd anticipated.
This is a wonderful film to look at, filled to overflowing with Freudian symbolism, energetic camerawork, and lush interiors. The museum-like offices of the philanthropic organization contrast with the ultra-modern trappings inside Sayer's home. This juxtaposition of tradition with modernism underscores the theme of social upheaval that Sayer fixates upon.
Nearly every shot is artfully composed--I really began to realize this as I watched the move for screen captures. A great amount of attention was paid to balance and geometry throughout the film, yet these shots never overwhelm the players. The characters are such symbolic figures that they need to exist within this type of universe. The camerawork is lively, panning and sweeping around rooms. There are several shots in which players seem to walk through the camera's view, enhancing the immediacy as well as the voyeuristic subtext.
"Femina Ridens" is a psychedelic venture into dark sexual territory that maintains some of its bite almost thirty years later. It has moments of unflinching meanness portrayed with measured elegance. The battle of the sexes has rarely looked this groovy!