The supposedly ‘boundary-pushing’ Supersex will only push your patience

An Italian nobody “bonks his way” into the adult film big leagues in Supersex, Netflix’s biographical series focusing on the life and (many, many) loves of Rocco Siffredi. Luke Buckmaster reckons it’s silly, half-arsed, and not even that sexy.

Sex sells, as they say; therefore super sex presumably sells super well. This logic is surely why the makers of Netflix’s series about the life of adult film star Rocco Siffredi, created and written by Francesca Manieri, have assured us it’s a smorgasbord of wall-to-wall fornication, including more than 40 “boundary-pushing” sex scenes. What a load of pishposh: I’ve watched all seven episodes and the only thing this so-so, intermittently hammy production pushed was my patience.

The sex scenes are, for the first few episodes, generally meek and brief—far from what you’d even call “soft porn.” Early on we watch the protagonist’s poverty-stricken youth on a tiny Italian island, his father assuring him that “destiny reserved this place and a life of struggles for us.” Not exactly a rousing pep talk—but Siffredi will bonk his way out of hardship. The show’s flashes of wobbly bits and moments of copulation become bolder and more plentiful a few hours in, when he enters the adult film industry.

If Supersex can be considered an accurate portrait of Siffredi (who is mostly played by Alessandro Borghi), then it’s clear this man is haunted by a shockingly histrionic internal monologue, boiling his brain from the inside. It’s translated for the audience into onerous voice-over narration that implies Siffredi regards himself as a kind of poet laureate or deep-thinking spiritualist, specialising in metaphors evoking the powers of clashing flesh.

In the second episode, a Parisian bedroom scene pairs a young Siffredi (Saul Nanni) with an aspiring pianist, Jade Pedri’s Sylvie, the pair of course indulging in the world’s oldest and most popular recreation. Like the show’s many other sex scenes, it’s not terribly staged, but the moment crashes and burns when that voice-over arrives. Siffredi recalls that: “Something exploded inside of me. For the first time, I had experienced what power is between male and females: a bridge that rises but does not unite.”

A bridge that rises but does not…what?! Now is perhaps a good time to note that Supersex is an Italian-language production, English viewers such as myself either hearing that line, via a dub, or seeing it printed on screen. It’s possible some aspects have been lost in translation, but something tells me Manieri’s prose—containing insights such as “life is porn” and “there was no longer any difference between fucking and getting fucked”—isn’t at the level of Umberto Eco or Italo Calvino. This is not some masterpiece reduced by poor translation.

After contemplating that silly bridge line far longer than I should have, I think Manieri might’ve been trying to lay a foundation for the drama to explore sexual power differences between men and women. Maybe. Manieri is a feminist and has discussed her lofty aim of using Siffredi, who in her words represents “the cock of the western culture,” to “put men in front of themselves” in an effort to “understand the relationship between men and women.”

That’s a hell of a goal for a story about a porn star whose legacy is synonymous with very rough sex, including spitting on and choking his co-stars, and infamously having intercourse with a woman while shoving her head down a toilet. To shape all this into a feminist statement is a tall order, separate to the question of whether it’s truthful or ethical in the first place. Sex sells. And being on the “right” side of a cultural conversation helps.

Supersex also has a whiff of self-mythologising, perhaps even historical ret-conning, in relation to some aspects of Siffredi’s story, the subject giving this version of it his blessing—authorising the work and helping promote it. In episode four, for instance, a woman shares with Siffredi a fantasy of hers whereby “I get to a point where I can’t breathe, and I pass away.” This scene is half-arsed, and the broader discussion of rough sex more or less ignored. But the inference seems to be: by choking her, he’s doing her a favour.

It’s one of the more cloying examples of a series that tries to be many things—even a story of love and marriage—but falls short on most fronts. By the end, Siffredi still doesn’t feel like a fully-formed person. Having said that, saying you watch Supersex for the character development is like saying you buy Playboy for the writing.