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Published by David Carter on 2016/4/3 (361 reads)
Directed by Jess Franco
Review by David Carter

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Released by Blue Underground
Running Time: 124 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: 1.0 DTS-HS Mono English/English, French & Spanish Subtitles
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 1.66:1
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: 3 Disc set includes Standard DVD of film and OST by Bruno Nicolai, interview with Jess Franco & Harry Alan Towers, interview with Stephen Thrower, collectable booklet
Trailer Online: Yes

The writings of the Marquis de Sade were hugely influential on European cinema in the late sixties and early seventies. Though there were many high-minded adaptations, this influence is seen most prominently in exploitation cinema, where the attitudes and predilections of de Sade served as a blueprint for a large portion of the erotica of the period. Few directors channeled de Sade’s spirit more frequently or accurately than his disciple Jess Franco.

Franco’s first overt foray into a de Sade adaptation would be 1969’s MARQUIS DE SADE’S JUSTINE, now available on Blu Ray + DVD combo from Blue Underground. As Franco’s highest budgeted film, JUSTINE is an important part of his oeuvre, but it also represents a very critical turning point in his career. Prior to JUSTINE, Franco flirted with a number of more mainstream efforts – his FU MANCHU films, the spy films LUCKY and THE GIRL FROM RIO – but JUSTINE marks the beginning of Franco’s movement to the style of film for which he is best known: surreal, erotically-charged fantasies. Presaged by his SUCCUBUS, the titular JUSTINE’s descent into perversion and madness is as much an exploration of Franco himself as it is de Sade’s celebration of immorality.

De Sade’s Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue and its companion novel, Juliette, or the Prosperities of Vice, are his most frequently adapted works, so the story of MARQUIS DE SADE’S JUSTINE will be very familiar for many of you. Sisters Justine and Juliette are forced out of their orphanage by uncaring nuns and initially seek refuge in a brothel. Faced with the decision between a life of prostitution and finding her way in world alone, Justine opts to keep her virtue and ventures out homeless and penniless, leaving Juliette behind to a life of sin.

Thus begins Justine’s ill-fated quest to retain her virtue in a horrific and uncaring world. She first finds herself misled by a priest and implicated as a thief, landing in prison among the murderers. After reluctantly escaping, she begins a pattern of being preyed upon by those she looks to for help, eventually being framed for murder and branded with a “M.” Justine seeks shelter in a monastery, but winds up in the clutches of the sadistic Father Antonin (Jack Palance), who plans to “enlighten” – meaning torture -- Justine until she learns her misguided attempt to remain a moral person is the source of all her troubles.

Despite its transgressive content, JUSTINE is Franco’s most overtly mainstream film; technically and stylistically being indistinguishable from any other European period piece from the time. As mentioned before, however, it is here that we see the beginnings of latter Franco; the Franco whose obsessions grew to dominate his cinema, taking it places few filmmakers dare to go. Young Romina Power stars as Justine, and Franco felt she lacked the acting ability and sensuality to tell the story how he wanted, yet it is her inability that pulls the film into the realm of oneiricism that would typify latter Franco films. She doesn’t seem to know where she is during the film and often looks lost in thoughts of something else, a trait that works well both for the character and to add a layer of surrealism to the work. Jack Palance, too, approaches his role with little regard for acting convention, delivering what is likely the first truly “Franco-esque” performance. Franco’s work has always contained sadism since his earliest films, but it is in JUSTINE that his affinity for it begins to show through.

Blue Underground has outdone themselves with this presentation. The 4K transfer of the film is gorgeous; truly one of the best Franco releases to date. The standard DVD and the Bruno Nicolai soundtrack are also included, as well as interviews with Franco and Stephen Thrower. JUSTINE may not reach the delirium of his later works but it is still unmistakably a Jess Franco film. As the first Franco/de Sade adaptation, JUSTINE is the perfect film with which to begin your journey (descent?) into the world of Franco’s cinema.
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