Monday, February 2, 2015

La philosophie dans le boudoir (1971) [filmed in 1969]

... aka: Beyond Love and Evil
... aka: Decameron francese (French Decameron)
... aka: Marquis de Sade's Beyond Love and Evil
... aka: Philosophy in the Boudoir
... aka: Philosophy of the Bedroom, The

Directed by:
Jacques Scandelari

"With this torch, I proclaim the triumph of evil over good. This purifying fire burns away all that is false and leaves only the essential of man; man whose true nature is sensual and erotic. The cleansing fire releases man from his outward traditions, freeing his true being. This being is permitted to flourish here in this sanctuary in accordance with his instincts. All forms of sensuality and eroticism are practiced to liberate man. This cruel fire, which burns so brightly it reaches into heaven itself, denying God his right to judge man. Only man can judge himself and say what is good and what is evil. Burn, bright fire, proclaim that man is triumphant at last as a sensual being enjoying to the fullest his true nature." This opening voice-over - which basically lays the groundwork for what we're about to see - is spouted by a man burning a skeleton hoisted up on a cross and it's pretty much just a fancy way of saying, "A bunch of freaks will now do a bunch of kinky things for about 90 minutes... and they won't feel guilty about it!" While that's a philosophy I can certainly get down with. I just wish it had been in service of a film that was a little more compelling and a little less silly.

Young, naive Zenoff (Lucas de Chabaneix, who's extremely pretty even with a unibrow), makes his way through the forest and stumbles upon a white mansion guarded by naked female "statues" with whips and dogs chained-up on the stairs. After averting those minor threats, he then enters into a large banquet room where a dinner / orgy is taking place. There, a bunch of people (mostly half-naked women and men in strange face paint and wigs) eat like pigs, roll around all over each other, feed each other, grope each other, fondle snakes, frogs and a hedgehog (?!) and sip on champagne while spouting a bunch of incomprehensible pseudo-philosophical gibberish that makes them seem more mentally imbalanced than enlightened. This 'love cult' was started by a wealthy weird-o named Yalo (Fred Saint-James), who believes the most important part of life is pleasure and thus has opened his home to anyone interested in a haven away from war, crime, corruption and the confining moral judgments of religion and the 'real world.' So what's a nice boy like Zenoff doing in a place like this? Well, he's fallen in love with one of the cult members and is willing to join them temporarily in order to convince the object of his affections to leave with him.

The object of affection in question is Xenia (Souchka), who's first seen waking up nude in bed in an all-white room with an egg-shaped lamp. She plays with a white bunny rabbit, rubs a white powder puff along her body, puts on a transparent robe lined with white fur and slips on some white furry slippers. Yes, that means she's a virgin and thus held in high regard. She's set to be married to Yalo and he's promised the rest of the cult that they too can have a sample once he's done taking her virtue. In the meantime, he keeps her bedroom door heavily guarded by a black muscleman in a speedo. Though the cult is supposedly all about free will, love and expression, Yalo has managed to warp everything by staging "punishments" where women are hunted down with dogs, whipped and then offered up to Varlac (Serge Halsdorf); a filthy, horny madman rapist he keeps locked away in the cellar. Either that, or they're chased down on horses, rubbed down with oil and engage in lesbian sex on a tree branch. I guess it depends on everyone's mood any given day.

Zenoff finally convinces Xenia to escape with him while everyone else is busy on one of their hunts. They run into the forest for a spell when suddenly Zenoff turns on Xenia and rapes her in a muddy creek. By the very next shot, the two are walking around naked holding hands. They then go back to the mansion (uhhh... why?), lounge around naked and have sex again. Next thing we know Xenia is going through the wedding ceremony and consummating her vows in front of a bunch of robed onlookers. The love triangle ends when one of the guys stabs the other to death and then Xenia morphs into a fascist, Ilsa-like queen bee of the colony who presides over ass-branding, ass-pinching, whipping and mass torture of the disobedient in her flock.

Supposedly this was based on the "memoirs" of the Marquis de Sade but that seems more like a marketing ploy than anything else. Though it does contain plenty of Sadean themes, it has very little to do with its own namesake: de Sade's 1795 book "La philosophie dans le boudoir." Instead of sticking to a straightforward plot, this is more a succession of weird and sometimes surreal set pieces concentrating on the kinky and perverse. There's almost nonstop nudity and lots of whipping, though this was no doubt far more shocking in the late 60s than it is today. During one long sequence, our hero walks along outside the mansion peaking in windows and sees such odd sights as a nude conga line, a guy sitting on the toilet painting, another guy letting a bunch of lesbians dry their feet on them and then drinking their bath water, a man stripped naked, dressed in stockings and then whipped by a bitchy, deranged, green drag queen named Sabrina (?) and, in the film's most memorable moment, a naked woman dumping a bunch of raw, slimy seafood onto her bed then masturbating with a bunch of live fish and a dead octopus (!?)

Does any of this make sense? No, not really. Is it pretentious? Oh God yes, and often hilariously so. It's mostly just a bunch of silly, self-indulgent nonsense with blank, lifeless, impossible-to-care-about characters doing and saying moronic things as well as a shapeless non-plot that has little to actually say outside of its opening monologue. However, it at least has decadent enough production values to complement its subject matter, which partially offsets all of the annoyances. The camerawork is quite interesting and experimental at times, there's a haunting music score and the odd make-up, costumes, artwork and production design provide aesthetic interest throughout.

As is often the case with these lesser-known, older European films, there are conflicting accounts of when this was actually released. The copyright date is 1969 and some sources claim its was actually released in France that same year. Other sources claim it was released two years later in its home country. Here in America it was dubbed and released theatrically in 1971 by Allied Artists Pictures, during that brief time in the early 70s where going to see X-rated films was in vogue, thanks mostly to the success of Best Picture Oscar winner Midnight Cowboy (1969). Most of the cast appear to be using fake names (the lead isn't even credited), though the crew does not. Producer Robert de Nesle also worked on around fifteen different Jess Franco films (usually as a producer) and the director made a few other sleazy flicks as well as a handful of hardcore gay pornos using the alias "Marvin Merkins." There's no legit DVD release to my knowledge.

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