Isabel Sarli: A Sex Bomb at Lincoln Center

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Frank Scherschel / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Actress Isabel Sarli in 1958

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Argentina's rigid censor board considered Sarli and Bo a national menace, and frequently cut their films to shreds. In the 1959 India, to confound the bluenoses, Bo sheathed Sarli's nudity in pinwheel optical effects that looked like spinning cartoon breasts. A U.S. distributor who picked up Sarli's Seventy Times Seven (directed by Argentina's premier auteur, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson) actually added sex scenes to the film. Gradually censorship waned, and the sexual content tumesced. In Carne she is forced to have sex in a meat locker — "meat on meat," as her seducer says. Fever showed her aroused by watching a male horse mount a female. (The U.S. censors didn't mind Sarli's nudity, but the horse-mating scenes had to go.) And Furia Infernal shows a man making love to a sheep — the same year Woody Allen played the same relationship for laughs in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.

"With so many nude scenes," Sarli says in the doc's curious English translation, "well, I started drinking whiskey. I drunk whiskey, because that gives me the cheering I need. I have always been very shy." She overcame it often enough: in Furia Infernal, she whips a man and then licks the blood off his back. "We put that scene in," she says, "because the [international] distributors wanted more sex."

That demand ebbed as many countries legalized hard-core movies, and heavy-breathing, undressed dames didn't satisfy the market. Today, though, Sarli and her films look just fine — a memory of forbidden lust, in living color and as vast as the Pampas. And very clean.

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