A young American woman (Sydne Rome) traveling through Italy finds herself in a strange Mediterranean villa where nothing seems right. Her visit becomes an absurd, decadent, oversexed version of “Alice in Wonderland”, with Marcello Mastroianni as the maddest of mad hatters and Roman Polanski a kinky March hare.
What? (Che?, also variously titled Quoi?, Was?, and Diary of Forbidden Dreams) is a 1972 comedy film written and directed by Roman Polanski, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Sydne Rome and Hugh Griffith. Set in an unnamed coastal city in Italy, the film tells a story of an American girl, Nancy (Sydne Rome) who,takes shelter in a villa filled with strange guests. There, she gets into a relationship with a retired pimp, Alex (Marcello Mastroianni). The film was shot on location in Amalfi, Italy, in a villa owned by the producer, Carlo Ponti. Some of the action was improvised.
According to Roger Ebert’s adroit half-star review, What?’s title came from Ponti’s enraged response to being shown the film for the first time. It’s easy to see where Ponti was coming from. “What?” is the only sane reaction to Polanski’s film. It’s the rare title that doubles as a review. Ebert goes on to note that in spite of Mastroianni, Polanski’s presence as director and actor, and gratuitous nudity of considerable quantity and quality, it took years for the film to find a distributor in the United States. A big drawback: distributors’ maddening insistence on actually seeing the film before agreeing to release it.