Therese, a beautiful but naive young girl, who finds herself being passed around from depraved pervert to depraved pervert, enduring just about every kind of sexual degradation there is ... See full summary »
Therese, a beautiful but naive young girl, who finds herself being passed around from depraved pervert to depraved pervert, enduring just about every kind of sexual degradation there is while still believing that some kind stranger will eventually help her. Written by
Initially written over a brief incarceration period at La Bastille and continuously expanded and improved upon throughout the rest of a life predominantly spent inside various penal and mental institutions, Justine or the Misfortunes of Virtue remains the signature work by the nowadays rarely read if routinely referred to by all and sundry Donatien Alphonse François de Sade. The nominal nobility that came with the title of Marquis by which he's most commonly identified casts a cruelly ironic shadow against the blinding light of the knee jerk treatment afforded him by authorities fearful of the consequences his anarchist free spirit might have on society, "protecting" then as now the lower classes allegedly unable to distinguish between artistic license and lewd licentiousness punishable by law. Frequently filmed with varying degrees of success and fidelity to its source, Sade received what must rank as one of his finest cinematic adaptations from what must have seemed like the unlikeliest of quarters at a time the author - along with many of his once banned be-lettered brethren like John Cleland and David Herbert Lawrence - was in the process of being publicly and proudly reclaimed by the Literati.
Even prior to a long and fruitful career in hardcore carnality, female pseudonyms like "Andrée Marchand" or "Caroline Joyce" indicating the inspiration his wife and collaborator Huguette Boisvert brought to this casually considered as most misogynist of genres, the late Claude Pierson wasn't exactly held in high esteem by the middle classes tendentiously pandered to by the newspapers of France, a country desperately clinging to an elsewhere rapidly eroding caste system. Perhaps the experience of being ostracized by polite society, and I use the term loosely, forged a spiritual bond between the maligned movie maker and his pen to paper predecessor. Whatever the case may be, his (or should that be "their" ?) JUSTINE DE SADE stands as one of preciously few films worthy of openly aligning itself with its notorious author, faithful in both letter and spirit and therefore ironically if inevitably a tad turgid going for the average adult audience trawling for titillatory thrills.
Retaining Sade's narrative structure, the movie introduces Justine (soft porn superstar Alice Arno unveiling untapped resources of insidious irony) as a convict on her way to the gallows whose sorry fate touches the heart of kept woman Juliette (France Verdier) who has amassed a small fortune by embracing vice as enthusiastically as our constantly beleaguered heroine did virtue. Calling herself "Thérèse" to suppress the shame, she tells her tale of woe and abuse at the hands of just about everyone she met, her mantra of being "a poor orphan girl, well-acquainted with vice since the age of 12" serving as more of aphrodisiac than deterrent. More pious than the people of the cloth, whose hypocrisy the writer delighted in exposing practically centuries before the general public was to grudgingly concur, Justine only yearns to do the right thing, protect the meek and downtrodden and hopefully keep her maidenhead in the process yet that's not exactly the way of the world.
Film's episodic structure emulates novel's feverish chapters but may wear some viewers down as Justine basically suffers one outrageous indignity after another. Names, faces and social status of the inflicting instigators (aristocrats, a congregation of monks, a band of thieves) may change but the situation stays the same with Justine pragmatically forced to "adjust" her attitude accordingly while, to her mind at least, preserving her cherished purity of heart if not body. Far better acted by a cast of second tier semi-respectability - usually supporting players in mainstream cinema - than most similar sexploitation offerings of the period, the movie's literally held together by Arno's stunning turn, making one regret the strictly decorative purposes she has been limited to on other occasions. Watch for her real life sister Chantal Broquet, an engaging if more low key erotic actress in her own right, as the frail countess weary of her perverted husband's lust for bloodletting, a rare chance to see both siblings in simulated orgy action. Chief among tech credits is the glowing cinematography by Jean-Jacques Tarbès, a seasoned professional who experienced no difficulty juggling jobs on "acceptable" flicks (shooting most of Continental king of comedy Claude Zidi's efforts) with more disreputable fare, his clearly cordial relationship with Pierson extending to his actually working on several of the director's explicit endeavors like CHALEURS INTIMES and EXTASES IMPUDIQUES ! For the record, this is also one of rare adaptations to retain Justine's original ironic fate, the author's final slap in the face of society slaving to keep its underlings in line through enforcement of the erroneous belief that virtue reap rewards, in this life or the next.
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