Radley Metzger is recognized as a director of erotica but there’s more to his work than just an exploration of sex.  His approach to erotica has a romantic side that dovetails with the elegance and decadence that runs through his work.  Perhaps the best example of this romantic side of Camille 2000, an update of the Alexandre Dumas story “Our Lady Of The Camellias.”  Beneath this psychedelic style and carnal affectations, this film as swooningly romantic as any vintage Hollywood melodrama you care to mention.

The focus here is the romance between a pair of jet-set opposites.  Armand (Nino Castronuovo) comes to spend a summer in Rome under the auspices of his wealthy businessman father (Massimo Serrato).  When his father isn’t available to join him, Armand drifts into Rome’s decadent nightlife and becomes smitten with Marguerite (Daniele Gaubert), a full-time party girl who is known as “Camille” for her love of camellias.  Marguerite is an emotionally guarded due to a tragic past but Armand’s determination wins her over.  However, external forces intrude upon their love affair, shifting the film’s tone from romance to tearjerker as it hurtles towards a tragic finale.

Camille 2000 lives up to Metzger’s reputation as a masterful purveyor of the erotic.  The sex scenes arrive at strategic points in the storyline and each is a fully conceptualized audiovisual treat: whether it is a passionate coupling in a mirror-lined art-deco bedroom or a fetish party where lovers lead each other around by chains,  each is beautifully stylized.  Metzger choreographs each sexual tableau with great care, always attentive to matching the rhythms of the imagery fit the emotional rhythms of a scene.

It helps that Metzger had a top-flight Italian crew at his disposal on this film. Cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri would go on to work with directors like Vittoria De Sica and Lina Wertmuller and his photography here offers a series of lush, painterly images, always beautifully orchestrated in their color and framing. and Piero Piccioni’s score blends lush orchestrations and tight lounge-jazz grooves in a way that perfect captures the film’s swinging-1960’s mood.

That said, Metzger never forgets that the story’s carnal choreography is an extension of a romantic storyline – and correspondingly he gives that element of the film prominence.  Michael DeForrest’s script takes its time to flesh out the characters and gives them tart, intelligent dialogue that effectively conveys their privileged yet jaded world.  Correspondingly, the director gives his work room to breathe, going for a languid pace that mirrors the intoxicated mood of its characters.

Metzger also gets strong performances from cast: Castelnuovo is charming as the film’s naive hero and he gets strong support from Serrato as the manipulative father and also Roberto DiSacco as Gastion, a friend who’s never at a loss for a cutting quip.  Fans of The Lickerish Quartet will also want to note an early appearance from Silvana Venturelli: she steals a major party sequence here with her seductive abilities. That said, the film belongs to Gaubert, who offsets her ethereal beauty with a wounded cynicism that can’t conceal a broken heart.  She doesn’t rely on her looks to do the acting for her and works hard to bring out the nuances of the material, a compliment that can be extended to the rest of the cast.

In short, Camille 2000 is an appealing marriage of chic late 1960’s style – not to mention that era’s freewheeling attitudes about sexuality – and old-fashioned love story.  It might be Metzger’s most romantic film – and you don’t have to be fan of erotica to enjoy its sleek pleasures.