Although both had been published separately nearly a decade before, the Marquis De Sade's "Justine, Or The Misfortunes Of Virtue" and "Juliette, Or The Prosperity Of Vice" were combined in a ten-volume set during the French Revolution (1797) and promptly banned for the next two hundred years or so. In "Justine", the heroine's "resistance to 'things as they are', in her incorrigible unwillingness or her inability to learn the lessons of the world...a world ruled by laws of wickedness, where only crime pays, where there are only victims and tyrants, the latter always right and the former wrong perforce -in this, the given and the possible world, Justine's virtue is unreasonable and unreasoning: It is not miscalculation, it is aberration". Her tormentors think she's mad and are fascinated by her, seeing Justine as "something irreducible, something insurgent and unconquerable...and even more troubling than all the barbarities she undergoes." Justine's sister Juliette, on the other hand, is just the opposite and prospers accordingly.
In Roger Vadim's VICE & VIRTUE, Juliette (Annie Girardot), the amoral French mistress of a Nazi general assassinated for treason, gives herself to his executioner, SS Oberführer Schörndorf (Robert Hossein), and together they flee Paris for Berlin as the Allies approach. Juliette's sister, Justine (Catherine Deneuve), meanwhile, is married to a Resistance fighter and when he's arrested, she's also taken into custody and consigned to the Commandery, a remote Austrian chalet used as a secret pleasure palace for the Nazi elite. When Berlin falls, Juliette and her lover make their way to the Commandery, an "Alamo" where an unexpected reunion and a date with Destiny await...
Vadim's VICE & VIRTUE and Pier Paolo Passolini's SALO have the exact same premise: in the final daze of WW II, it's anything goes at a Fascist stronghold just before Allied Armageddon -but as striking as that is, the similarity ends there. Passolini's film remained thematically true to its clinically depraved source (Sade's "The 120 Days Of Sodom") while Vadim's is a romanticized, often operatic adaptation of "Justine/Juliette" that ends as a treatise on the wages of sin. Unfortunately, this is antithetical to De Sade's tenets and although V&V can stand on its own merits, it pales in comparison to SALO. Outside of the Comandery, the only thing in Vadim's oddly erotic opus faithful to its source is Oberführer Schörndorf, a Sadean superman (until the end, anyway) and a living embodiment of the Marquis' "Do as thou wilt" philosophy (a creed also adopted by Alestair Crowley for his Thelema religion). De Sade's magnum opus was published during the dark days of the French Revolution and certain parallels can be drawn between that tumultuous time and the fall of the Third Reich so re-imagining the tale in that era (with the SS elite as a secret society of sociopathic sybarites) was inspired and Vadim should get the credit for that. "The Commandary" in both the Vadim and the Pasolini are the "pleasure domes" where the elite can indulge their darkest desires but V&V only hints at what SALO makes explicit.
Unlike Pasolini, Vadim turns De Sade's philosophy on its ear: in V&V, the virtuous Justine is liberated from the Commandery by the Allies and the wanton Juliette is poisoned by her lover but in the books, it's Justine who dies and Juliette who's "liberated" -which is probably why there's no mention of the Marquis in the film's credits. Still, the subject matter was a fairly daring (for its time) "morality tale" even if its depiction was on the tame side. Come to think of it, ILSA: SHE- WOLF OF THE SS has the same premise as both the Vadim and the Pasolini and I'd say V&V falls somewhere between the blatant exploitation of ILSA and the more sober aspirations of SALO.
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