Thursday, February 2, 2012


Interviewed by Lucas Balbo in 1986, Jess Franco singled out this Marquis de Sade adaptation as one of his best recent works, explaining that the entire film was shot in sustained takes, about 20 in all. By my count, the entire film consists of 46 shots but this is still an amazing feat and one that is even more impressive considering the emphasis placed on editing today, when ADD-challenged audiences need to be kept awake. Told in something fairly close to real time, the story's unspecified source appears to be a contemporary update of Sade's novel JULIETTA, OR VICE REWARDED: Antonio (Robert Foster aka Antonio Mayans) invites his lover Julia (Lina Romay) to come to the southern coast of Spain, where he shares a fabulous villa with a servant girl named Marta, a mute guitarist, and his wife Martina (Rocio Freixas), who is being released from a mental hospital where she's been treated for schizophrenia and nymphomania the past four years. Unknown to Martina, Antonio plans to murder her with Julia's help during the evening's revels, but unknown to him, Martina and Julia have been lovers since they met in the hospital.

As with any Franco film I might watch in the coming months, I must reserve my fuller thoughts for a viewer's guide to his work that I'm preparing. That said, this is one of Franco's best films, especially impressive of his 1980s output, and his camerawork on the film -- credited pseudonymously -- may be the single finest technical achievement of his career. As a study in sustained takes, this film made with a crew of less than five people is more ingeniously staged and composed than either of Hitchcock's experiments along the same lines; it has a very sensual rhythm, communicates a powerful voyeuristic stance, and the adjustment by zoom from one composition to another within the depth of how the scenes were blocked and staged is brilliant -- but the critical mainstream will never acknowledge it, since it's a raucous softcore sex film in the final analysis. The principal cast consists of Franco's usual core team from this period, but they are all working at the top of their game -- the film had to be meticulously rehearsed and blocked in advance, so the actors convey more character and nuance than is common in his work, especially during this period. This Spanish-language film was never issued in an English-friendly version, but online fan subtitles can be found and downloaded.

Viewed on Cine Erotico Espanol DVD. 

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