The beautiful O is taken by her boyfriend, Rene, to a bizarre retreat, where she is trained in bondage and sexual perversion. Rene discharges a personal debt by transferring possession of O...
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The beautiful O is taken by her boyfriend, Rene, to a bizarre retreat, where she is trained in bondage and sexual perversion. Rene discharges a personal debt by transferring possession of O to his step-brother, Sir Stephen...Written by
Following his spectacular commercial as well as begrudging critical success with the landmark EMMANUELLE, photographer turned filmmaker Just Jaeckin tried his hand at another erotic literature adaptation. Published in 1954, "Histoire d'O" caused an immediate scandal which drove the curious to the book stores with its single-minded first person account of a young woman's voluntary debasement to please her insecure lover, evolving into a more equally based power relationship with the sophisticated elderly mentor to whom she is passed on. Its author "Pauline Réage" was clearly pseudonymous and who was really responsible proved a fertile source for speculation, a particularly persistent possibility being idiosyncratic director Alain Robbe-Grillet who would dabble (with wife Catherine, under the joint "nom de plume" Jean de Berg) in the S&M field with "L'Image", ironically also filmed that year in a beautiful borderline hardcore version by Radley Metzger. Finally, the culprit came clean herself for, yes, it indeed was a woman in 1992, revealing herself to be respected writer and translator Dominique Aury (whose real name was Anne Desclos), who had penned the novel as an angst-ridden love letter to her considerably older paramour Jean Paulhan, an esteemed member of the Academie Française, whose sophistication both overwhelmed and terrified her. Retaining much of the book's matter of fact prose through effective voice over, supplying the voice "O" willingly surrenders, HISTOIRE D'O proves Jaeckin's high watermark as an erotic entrepreneur.
Never given a proper character name beyond the single letter she adopts with implications of both nothingness and infinity, "O" (engagingly portrayed by exquisite Corinne Cléry, memorably ripped apart by Dobermanns in minor Bond MOONRAKER) humors lover René (cult favorite Udo Kier) by accepting an extended stay at the Château of Roissy, a secluded environment designed for the education of women by their own volition, stressed at every turn into a life of submission as the ultimate expression of love. Dressed in flowing robes that allow easy entry to whoever feels so inclined, "O" becomes part of a silent sisterhood whose utter servitude instills them with innate strength, available to all men yet belonging to none. Her personal manservant Pierre (longtime character actor Jean Gaven, impressive as one of the assumed villains in Jean Becker's masterpiece L'ETE MEURTRIER, coincidentally another film relying on extensive narration to get its point across) doles out daily punishment but relinquishes his power when he falls in love with his charge.
Her training complete, "O" returns to her real world occupation as fashion photographer, grooming stuck up model Jacqueline (gorgeous Li Sellgren, also in Jaeckin's MADAME CLAUDE) for René's benefit and a subsequent stay at Roissy. It soon becomes clear that "O" has already outgrown her only outwardly unconventional lover, summoned by his "tutor" Sir Stephen (former British matinée idol Anthony Steel, no stranger to "naughty" credits as he appeared in both of James Kenelm Clarke's Fiona Richmond vehicles HARDCORE and LET'S GET LAID) who has become intrigued by this strangely subservient girl wielding power over his pupil. Equipped with fearsome black housekeeper Norah (imposing Laure Moutoussamy, star of occasional gay pornographer Norbert Terry's COUCHE-MOI DANS LE SABLE ET FAIS JAILLIR TON PETROLE !), sophisticated Sir Stephen will push her boundaries even further, with the physical souvenirs (pierced labia and branded initials, again by her own choice) to prove it. To this end, he sends her to live with the deceptively kind Anne-Marie (a tremendous performance by Christiane Minazzoli, by then a mainstay in French films for over two decades) in a comforting girls only environment that would seem like a walk in the park after Roissy. Without men for distraction however, the women will dig their claws into each other for top spot in their mistress' favor. Watch for several skin flick starlets during this extended episode, like Albane Navizet (star of Jean-François Davy's LE DESIR a/k/a INFIDELITES), Nadine Perles (from Eddy Matalon's LA CHATTE SANS PUDEUR) and especially Martine Kelly as tomboy Thérèse. Not a soft porn siren per se, Kelly had totally charmed audiences in her debut as the Scottish lass coveted by Olivier De Funès in Jean Girault's affable LES GRANDES VACANCES. Over time, she would amass a consistently engaging body of work in movies as diverse as Samy Pavel's distinctly odd and now virtually impossible to see MISS O'GYNIE ET LES HOMMES FLEURS and the period melodrama LES MAL PARTIS by Sébastien Japrisot, who adapted novel to screenplay for "O". Coincidence ?
It's amazing what a little okay, a lot of surface gloss could do to sneak contentious material past the censors circa 1975. One has to bear in mind that this played regular theaters rather than the "specialized circuit" and, literary pedigree notwithstanding, this is one diabolically dirty movie, even with most graphic components eloquently left to imagination. Revered DoP Robert Fraisse, who continues to work on both sides of the Atlantic to this very day (doing exemplary work on the Nick Cassavetes' ingratiating period piece THE NOTEBOOK for example), imbues the luxurious interiors with ominous grandeur in line with the dispassionate ritual approach Sir Stephen and his acolytes take to justify their apparently debauched goal, the dank coldness of Roissy contrasting effectively with the warm hues of the Anne-Marie segment. As with EMMANUELLE, late pop chart topper Pierre Bachelet contributes a richly varied score which proved a bestseller on vinyl, an obligatory auditory accoutrement in middle class households back in the day. Only slightly less successful than its predecessor, yet a far more ambitious and accomplished work, HISTOIRE D'O also proved something of a private obsession for producer Eric Rochat, who would return to the material time and again with a peculiar sequel (pretentiously subtitled CHAPITRE II, which he helmed himself) with Dutch actress Sandra Wey who was no Sylvia Kristel and a ten episode miniseries starring Brazilian bombshell Claudia Cepeda. Neither of these in any way tarnishes the ebullient effect the extremely erotic original still exudes over three decades down the line.
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