Justine de Sade (US - DVD R1)
Gabe takes a trashy dive into this tale of perversion, depravity, and violation...
Imagine your most unlucky day. Now multiply that day’s hardships by ten, and stretch that day into a year. An innocent orphan girl named Therese goes into the world with only her ‘virtue’, and finds nothing but trouble. Every day brings about a new form of perverse depravity, a new attacker, a new master, a new enemy. On her journey Therese is raped and ravaged, held captive and abused, beaten and branded, and the worst is yet to come.
Welcome to part two of my Blue Underground Sexploitation double feature. As a newcomer to this side of the grindhouse (I’m not known to seek out non-horror or action related flicks when I go old school), I’m positively amazed at how strictly director Claude Pierson adheres to the original text, as written by the infamous Marquis de Sade. Characters speak in the appropriate era tongue, their thoughts are audible, and Therese acts as a narrator throughout. Cineastes more accustomed to the narrative flow of modern motion pictures may be put off by the extremely episodic nature of de Sade’s tale of perversion, but this is in keeping with Pierson’s apparent intent (though I am making a lot of assumptions here, I really know nothing of the history of the film or director).
Justine de Sade is the kind of film that they haven’t made in decades, and most likely will never make again. Today we do have art house features with hard core sex, but they aren’t the same; they’re made with purpose beyond pornography, and the pornography we do have is artless. Because this brand of soft core filmmaking with both exploitative and artistic ambitions is all but dead, it is important to maintain a record of them. Fortunately for me as a witness to this anachronistic pseudo-art, this particular production is well made, easy to navigate, and most importantly not without a sense of humour.
The Marquis de Sade is most notorious for his increasing debauchery, but his constant taboo shattering was often full of dark comedy, and by its very nature was funny when read with the correct ear. Most viewers will find Justine de Sade assaultive, and perhaps even in this day and age blasphemous, and the near two hour run time will try even open minded patience, but those in the correct state of mind will find something to laugh at in the film. Most of the time, unlike so many other films from this time and of this style, this humour is actually intentional. Occasionally the film comes off as an incredibly raunchy episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
That said, anyone watching the film with the intention of titillation will most likely be disappointed. The nude bodies are curvaceous and attractive, yes, but the deeds of the flesh aren’t exactly what I’d call erotic. The nature of the violence and sex is pretty extreme, but what actually ends up on screen is rather reserved (well, as reserved as the work of the de Sade can be). The bottom line is that Justine de Sade lies somewhere between the art house and pornography, and probably won’t satisfy either camp, which is why I recommend it with a gigantic but (no, not Therese's).
The most obvious issue with this as immaculate as can be expected restoration is the fluttering of the image. The frame is always swaying, and bright colours flare out and wiggle a bit. Between scenes there is sometimes a jump and missed frame or two. The transfer’s blacks are deep, and mostly clean, and though the contrast levels occasionally seem extreme, colours appear accurate. There is of course some grain and some artefacts throughout, but details are clean and edge enhancement is minor.
This is apparently the most complete version of the film available, and some scenes haven’t been dubbed into English. The acting in the film is stilted and old fashion, but not too bad, and both the original French and dubbed English are pretty much equal in quality of voice. Both tracks are Mono, and both are thin but clear. Distortion is present in particularly high volume levels, like screams or dramatic musical cues, but this is always brief. The French track features louder music and sound effects, and slightly softer dialogue. This is very clear while watching the English track, which because of the lacking dub occasionally jets into French.
I find myself curious about director Claude Pierson and his other work, but I’m kind of out of luck with this DVD. The only extras here are of the completist’s variety, and include a deleted intro, an alternate sequence, and two trailers. The deleted intro has no sound, and is a collage of de Sade era drawings in black and white. I’m guessing it was meant to be set to some kind of narration. The alternate scene is a ‘clothed’ version of one of the film’s many nude scenes, which seems entirely worthless considering how much more nudity and sex is to be found in the rest of the film. The French trailer is set to electronic music not found in the film, and implies much more of a horror show than what is made available. The English trailer also sells it as a horror film, and features still frames and narration set to stereotypical horror movie music.
This brand of old school torture porn isn’t really the kind of thing I normally enjoy, and though I don’t see myself rewatching this one anytime soon, I was impressed with its overall execution. I don’t think I need to stress how very acquired a taste this one is, and even though it’s better than most similar films I’ve seen it’s still not recommended for novices and the uninitiated.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 28th August 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono French, English
Extras: Deleted Scene, Alternate Scene, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Claude Pierson
Cast: Alice Arno, Marco Perrin, Chantal Broquet
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 102 minutes
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