Château de dames (1993)

Babette as Babeth
Béatrice Valle
Elodie Chérie as Elodie
Samantha Wood
Vanessa d’Angely as Vanessa

Director:Michel Ricaud
Notes:Video Marc Dorcel, produced in 1992, 106 mins.

Over two decades old, Marc Dorcel’s “Chateau de Dames” is an extremely well-made suspense feature on a theme that is constantly bungled by today’s pornographers: the BDSM lite concept of a young woman being initiated into a bondage cult. The successful young schmoes like Jacky St. James should take a gander at this feature and see how it’s done, both dramatically and sexually.

Michel Ricaud is a director of variable output of which I greatly enjoyed an earlier Dorcel opus “Les Rendez-vous de Sylvia” (featuring a young Rocco Siffredi in the cast) on VHS but that one has not been reissued. This one is available and was released long ago on DVD by Wicked here in the states.

Blonde heroine Aurora, ably played by Babette (who I was fortunate enough to see in two Luca Damiano fairy tale epics made around this time) is the Hitchcockian character, getting caught up in some amateur detective work that we the audience know will get her into trouble. Ricaud follows Hitch’s dictum of creating suspense by telling us more than the character knows, rather than hitting us with surprises out of left field.

Film (shot on video) begins with Aurora humping her seemingly shy husband Francois (Jean Yves Le Castel), after sending their Rolls Royce limo driver away for a little outdoor privacy. Ricaud’s photography and angles during the sex scenes are imaginative and again an object lesson to today’s repetitious and routine XXX shooters.

In a very obscure nod to Jean Cocteau (see: “Orpheus”), Aurora overhears on the Rolls car radio a shortwave radio conversation in which some guy is planning the initiation into a cult of a female slave, “Story of O” style. Aurora becomes determined to save the unknown lass, and with reluctant Francois in tow heads to a nearby castle (château in French and translated into mansion for us Americans) to begin their rescue adventure.

The audience is tipped early on that Francois is in with the bad guys, planning to initiate poor Aurora into the same cult against her will.

Aurora is both voyeuse, peeking in at the sexual rites (mainly threesomes) going on in the château, or participating in same. Key clue for her is she sees many of the folks including her husband Francois wearing the same distinctive black ring, so her suspicions about her hubby are aroused. But she fails to act on them, and becomes a cult member by film’s end, unwilling at first but in true porno fashion enjoying the sex and conversion.

This is exactly what is missing from the dozens of new BDSM features made by Jacky and others, which miss the whole point. It is the suspense and resistance against becoming a slave or submissive that creates dramatic tension and permits a story to unfold in interesting fashion. Instead we get boring and repetitious non-stories about young women just dying to become a submissive, and in between the propaganda spewed on how wonderful that “liberating” experience can be the viewer simply watches sex and bondage unfold with no conflict whatsoever. Aurora may succumb in the end, but her story is worth watching precisely because she is a heroine in peril for an hour and a half, not just a sex performer going through the motions.

This is a strong cast, not of superstars but of top-notch Gallic talent. Samantha Wood as Olga, a big-breasted redhead who even gets to play a drunk scene when not taking on all comers was my favorite, while best-known player Beatrice Valle is utterly convincing as Iris, the dominatrix with a Dana DeArmond hairdo. The host couple from the château are well played by Philippe Besnard and Vanessa, latter a strong blonde. Sexiest of the bunch is Elodie, also with beautiful natural breasts.

Completing the cult crew is Philippe Soine as Frank, slightly confusing as our antihero is named Francois (I had to correct their reversed credits in IMDb). A decade or two later he became one of Dorcel’s most talented directors. Unlike the Dorcel releases of recent years, this feature is performed with nary a condom in sight. The French entrepreneur’s latter-day commitment to safe sex seems quite hollow indeed, as AIDS was of epidemic proportions when this quality feature was shot in 1993.