Friday, December 28, 2012

Justine de Sade (1972)

... aka: Justine
... aka: Justine - Lustschreie hinter Klostermauern
... aka: Violation of Justine, The

Directed by:
Claude Pierson

After being tossed out of a convent, 15-year-old Juliet (France Verdier) is forced to look for a way to support herself. Thankfully, a local brothel is hiring. After passing her virginity test, Juliet is promised retirement after just ten years as a working girl. In that time, she makes all the right connections and manages to carve out a cushy life for herself as the wife of a wealthy count. The same cannot be said for Juliet's sister, Justine (Alice Arno). Instead of prostituting herself, Justine decided to try to live a more virtuous life. And if you're familiar with the de Sade novel in which this is based, you'll realize that trying to take the more 'respectable' road has its own misfortunes. This begins with Justine, who now goes by the name Thérèse, being brought into a tavern by two armed guards on their way to Paris. Justine has been accused of theft, arson and murder, and may face death if convicted. Juliet happens to be in the same tavern and, married to a Count, gets a chance to talk to Justine. Since the two women were separated as children, and Justine has only revealed her alias, they don't even realize they're sisters.

Justine's story is a sordid one full of cruelty, abuse and misery. As a poor orphan girl, Justine got her first taste of what men are really like when a potential employer forced her to jerk him off and then ejaculated on her face. Humiliated by that ordeal, Justine moves on to the home of eccentric Mr. Du Harpin, who encourages her to steal a gold box from an upstairs neighbor in exchange for a raise. After Justine refuses, Du Harpin frames her and she's thrown in prison. There, she meets a notorious gypsy named Madame Dusbois, who usually runs with a pack of thieves. Dusbois starts a fire which kills 21 people so she can escape, and takes Justine along with her. Justine refuses to give up her virginity to Dusbois's bandit friends, so they make her do other sexual things instead. Right when one tries to enter into "the altar where I will burn my incense" (her ass), Justine is saved by the arrival of Saint-Florent (Franco Fantasia). The bandits rob him but spare his life when Justine agrees to do any sexual favors the men want. Instead, she unties Saint-Florent and the two manage to sneak out the next morning before any deflowering of incense burning can commence.

Saint-Florent rewards Justine for saving his life by knocking her out with a stick and then violating her while she's knocked out. Afterward, she encounters a young man "immolating his master with a colossal spear" (i.e. fucking another guy) in the woods. When they realize she's spying on them, they "flush the slut out," strip her naked, scare her and then take her back to an aunt's home to work as a chambermaid. When she refuses to take part in poisoning the aunt, she's taken outside, where De Bressac lets a couple of dogs chew up her ass. Justine goes to a seemingly charitable surgeon, who tends to her wounds and lets her convalesce for a month. Nice guy? Nope. He turns out to be a sadist who likes being whipped and is a pedophile who uses his daughter Rosalee as a sex slave and then plans on killing her. When Justine tries to help Rosalee escape, she's branded a criminal and tossed out of the boarding school.

Off to a monastery Justine goes, where she hopes to find sanctuary with some holy men. Nope. These monks are actually sadistic creeps just like the rest of the men in this movie. The men have their own female sex slaves, who have been beaten into complete submission during their stay there. They'd like to add Justine to their little harem. She's gang raped multiple times, has her ass beaten bloody with a piece of wood, is whipped, forced to take part in orgies, is douched with boiling hot water, has a communion wafer shoved up her ass (!) and has to have sex with another woman. She escapes from there after six months and is immediately kidnapped and brought to the home of a bisexual painter with a major ass fetish who lives with his sickly wife (played by Arno's real-life sister Chantal Broquet) and two boy toys and likes to slice them all up with a scalpel. Her last little adventure involves a wealthy, well-endowed nobleman (with a cock "the size of half an arm") who's into torturing and killing women and oxygen deprivation.

This makes quite the interesting companion piece to Jess Franco's MARQUIS DE SADE'S "JUSTINE" (1968), an adaptation of the same controversial tale. Both movies had a major central casting flaw. Franco's movie featured 17-year-old Romina Power (forced upon him by producers) in the titular role. While Power certainly looked the part of an inexperienced, naive young virgin, she lacked the talent and experience necessary to make the character anything more than a wooden plank to bounce the action off of. Pierson's choice of Alice Arno (then in her mid-20s) also doesn't really ring true. Though a better actress than Power, she's still pretty wooden herself and doesn't look anywhere near as fresh and innocent. To solidify the connection between the two films, Arno was a frequent player in Franco's films both before and after this one. She was a victim to incestuous father-and-daughter killers in EUGENIE DE SADE (1970), played the titular cannibal in THE PERVERSE COUNTESS (1973), was a sadistic lesbian in FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) and had numerous other roles for the Spanish director.

Franco's film was the bigger-budgeted, better-looking, more visually stylish of these two movies and had the star power of actors like Jack Palance, Klaus Kinski and Mercedes McCambridge to fall back on. Despite having a cast not well-known outside of France, Pierson's film is actually the better acted of the two movies and is also adequately produced itself, with fine sets, period costumes and production values. Pretty much in the pocket of his producers, Franco had to tone down the material considerably to ensure a wider release. Pierson, however, did not. He covers more of the novel in much less time and is able to stay more faithful. His film features lots of kinky sex and full-frontal nudity and even retains de Sade's downbeat ending (which Franco had changed). It's almost as if one took the best elements from both of these movies we'd have a very good adaptation instead of two watchable though highly-flawed ones.

If possible, try to view this one in French with subtitles. The English dubbing makes the whole thing rather laughable. Many versions are censored; including the original U.S. theatrical and VHS releases (there's now an uncut DVD from Blue Underground). The most complete version runs 115 minutes.


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