This film has the distinction of being the only hardcore film that director Radley Metzger signed with his own name after launching a parallel career in 1974 as XXX director "Henry Paris." It is based on L'IMAGE, a 1956 S&M novel credited to its protagonist Jean de Berg, which had the notoriety of featuring a Preface by THE STORY OF O author "Pauline Réage" (Dominique Oury) at a time when that book was her only available writing, which led to widespread speculation that she may have written it under another pseudonym. It's the story of a man, Jean, who is attracted to an aloof beauty named Anne at a party, an attraction which coerces him into a deeper relationship with Claire, an older woman who doesn't attract him but who has complete, even sexual, control over Anne and offers the same to him.
THE IMAGE (also known as THE PUNISHMENT OF ANNE) is one of Metzger's most important films, yet also one of the most frustrating to assess. Filmed on location in Paris, it's often ravishingly photographed but Metzger focuses, with almost militant insistence, on all the city's most phallic symbols. In an early scene, Claire forces Anne to urinate in Jean's presence; when he later reflects on his intimate moment, he does so while parked in front of the Trocadero Fountains opposite the Eiffel Tower! The novel wasn't written with this kind of indelicacy and such coarseness, added to an otherwise faithful adaption, feels a bit insulting. It's also an unfortunate post-production decision to have Jean dubbed, and the film itself narrated, by well-known voice actor Peter Fernandez, best-remembered as the voice of Speed Racer. His distinctive voice is a bad match for actor Carl Parker and bad casting for a Frenchman in such a location-specific story.
Despite these sometimes wince-inducing traits, the film has moments that are intensely erotic, and it has the sensitivity, even the cleverness, to see that Anne is a literary conduit between Jean and Claire, that the entire story could be boiled down to an inventive metaphor for that old-fashioned expression, "the courtship ritual" -- Anne has no real life outside their dynamic, and when she finally disappears, the real story between her punishers can commence. Carl Parker (Mike in Metzger's earlier film SCORE) seems a bit too handsome to need these sorts of machinations in his love life, but Marilyn Roberts is fascinatingly enigmatic as Claire, and Mary Mendum (who also worked in some of Joe Sarno's best films under the name "Rebecca Brooke") gives the courageous performance that engages our interest (and eye) throughout. Though technically hardcore, the film is graphically limited to oral sex; there are no penetration shots, unless you count the needles going into Ms. Mendum in the "Gothic Chamber" sequence.
Viewed via Synapse Films' Blu-ray disc. A fuller review will be forthcoming in VIDEO WATCHDOG.