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I watched this last week, my sixth Jess Franco movie. After the relative disappointment with EUGENIE DE SADE (1970), I had hoped that the next Franco would relight my initial admiration for his work. In this respect, I was not a little wary of trying JUSTINE, as its reception on the Internet since its DVD release has not been exactly positive! But since it was the only thing available at the moment Well, I wasn't wrong about my reservations regarding this film, as I must say that I found it truly abysmal! Not so much a waste of time as a wasted opportunity: as Rod Barnett had said in the recent FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973; a film I haven't watched yet, by the way) thread, I think that Franco fails even here to bring out the full potential of the definitely intriguing plot - despite having the biggest budget of his entire career to work with!
Still, what I find most disconcerting about the film is the ongoing parade of embarrassing performances from some interesting (i.e. formerly respectable) actors: Akim Tamiroff, Mercedes McCambridge and, worst of all, Jack Palance. The other notables from the cast - Klaus Kinski, Sylva Koscina and Howard Vernon acquit themselves far better, also because they were already practiced at this sort of thing. McCambridge's raspy voice is given a thorough work-out here, as though she were already attempting to 'find' the demon voice for THE EXORCIST (1973)! Palance, on the other hand, gives new meaning to the expression 'chewing up the scenery' - the fact that he was drunk all through the shooting of the picture could hardly bode well for some form of coherence in his performance and, while I couldn't help (or indeed stop) laughing when he was on screen, deep down I felt really sorry for him as he clearly did not belong there!!
Despite his brief and silent appearance, Klaus Kinksi makes for an appropriately moody Marquis De Sade, who grows increasingly paranoid as the story he is writing unfolds on the screen; actually this linking sequence is quite atmospheric: one online review even compares it to the Gothic horror films of Mario Bava, and I can certainly see where he is coming from with such an argument. Maria Rohm again proves to be an asset to the film (though she isn't nearly as effective here as she was in EUGENIE THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION ): a clearly intelligent woman who possesses both great charisma and genuine sex appeal. Perhaps the film's best sequence is her heartless drowning of the Rosemary Dexter character, formerly her mentor and lover (needless to say, the fact that both women go through the scene stark naked made it all the more memorable!).
As for Romina Power, this may come as a surprise to you but I didn't think she was as bad as most online reviews would have it. Of course, apart from her constant innocent demeanor, she never really captures Justine's essential personality (especially her gradual acceptance of masochism). However, you may remember that in my review of EUGENIE, I had similar reservations about Marie Liljedahl - though, to be fair to her, she certainly came off as less 'wooden'; then again, most of the performances in JUSTINE are terrible anyway, so it really doesn't matter! Perhaps, for someone like Francesco and me, we are more responsive to her 'acting' because we are used to watching her on Italian TV whereas the rest of you will probably have to make do with this single, admittedly unimpressive performance! Still, echoing another review I read of the film, I'm not sure that Rosemary Dexter (apparently Franco's personal choice) could have done much better with the title role, though one cannot really judge her talent from the thankless role she was relegated to playing!
(Useless bit of trivia: Romina Power regularly comes to Malta on holiday perhaps the world's largest collection of her father Tyrone's ephemera resides in our country, believe it or not! - and it is said that she often takes a villa at Naxxar to live in; Naxxar, of course, is the village in Malta where I live!)
For me, the best thing about the entire film is Bruno Nicolai's masterful score, which is perhaps wasted here! At the very least, however, one could say that JUSTINE is good to look at and that it is packed with incident, so it does not really feel slow (like EUGENIE, for instance) throughout its lengthy duration if only what was on screen were more genuinely compelling!
As of now, I stand about 50/50 on Franco (from the very few titles that I have sampled) and, in all honesty, I'm beginning to despair of ever finding another film to equal EUGENIE or THE DIABOLICAL DOCTOR Z (1965). Still, I have high hopes for SUCCUBUS (1967) which will be my next venture into Franco's endless canon as well as VENUS IN FURS (1968) and LORNA THE EXORCIST (1974), though I'll only be able to watch the last two if the local censors deign to release them from their clutches!
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