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Justine de Sade (1972)

Director: Claude Pierson
Blue Underground

Adapted from the notorious novel by the Marquis de Sade, JUSTINE DE SADE is the best film Jess Franco never made. At first glance, it’s completely understandable why there has been confusion by some fans over who was responsible for this one. Franco’s affection for de Sade and leading lady Alice Arno, as well as the cheap costume party aesthetics present throughout his career, naturally sends lights flashing while watching this film. However, prolific French exploiteer Claude Pierson is the party responsible here, and to his credit, he does what Franco never did: create a version of “Justine” that is so close to the source material that the author himself would doubtlessly approve. Depending on the patience level of any given viewer, though, this is either a blessing or a curse.

Shackled in chains and escorted by two guards, young Therese is beseeched by a high society woman she encounters in a tavern to explain how such a young girl could fall into a life of crime. Be careful what you ask for: Therese relates her sordid history, filled with one perverted man after the other, taking advantage of her naiveté and introducing her to one sordid activity after the other! Her many misadventures include being sexually inducted into a gang of thieves, losing her virginity while unconscious to a nobleman whose life she saves, acting as a servant to a homosexual who tries to force her to kill his aunt, and in the longest, most shocking segment, being educated in the ways of sexual servitude by a group of monks in an abandoned monastery! This is just the tip of the iceberg, as Therese continues regaling the noblewoman with her biography until it is revealed that the two are actually much closer than they anticipated.

JUSTINE DE SADE is perhaps the most successful adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s novel, in terms of staying true to the source, but it is also the longest, surely making it a sort of endurance test for some. Just shy of two hours, Claude Pierson has included almost everything in the novel, which means that when the viewer thinks that Justine has experienced the ultimate humiliation, she stumbles upon another pervert looking to taint her. Simply put, this gets tiresome after a while, until many viewers will simply be begging for the other shoe to drop! Where most adaptations of “Justine” slim the novel down and rewrite most of de Sade’s original to suit the purposes of the filmmakers, Pierson is not only thorough in following her journey into depravity, but wisely includes the colorful dialogue of the novel. This isn’t a Cliff’s Notes version of “Justine”, it’s the real thing! Many people seem to forget over time that in addition to being shocking in their sexual excess, de Sade’s writings were also scandalously funny, and while there aren’t many giggles to be found in the acts of corruption, the many soliloquies praising the joys of anal sex, masturbation, necrophilia, child murder, women as the lesser sex, and erotic asphyxiation are quite hysterical. And try not to laugh at the audacious simulated money shots! Where Jess Franco’s JUSTINE plays like a lavish costume drama version of “Alice in Wonderland”, Pierson’s film resembles a particularly bawdy and outrageous episode of “Masterpiece Theater.” If that’s not a dividing summation, what is?

As a star vehicle, Alice Arno couldn’t have asked for better. She appears in almost every scene, even if she is being mistreated in most of them. As a matter of fact, she actually resembles American adult actress Darby Lloyd Rains in many scenes! Contrary to the box copy, Alice Arno’s sister Chantal Broquet, who appears here, does not appear in GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS, the 1985 Jess Franco film (though she is in THE LUSTFUL AMAZONS, a 1973 title often confused with the 1980s film). No performances really stand out, as this isn’t exactly the type of material that requires the range of a Shakespearean actor.

Previously released on a nice R2 disc from Oracle (with the same cover art as this Blue Underground disc to boot), the 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer looks just as good, if not slightly better than Oracle’s restoration job. It also looks to be a beautiful new NTSC transfer, not a cheap PAL-to-NTSC job so common with other companies. No print damage or debris in sight, with bright color and a smooth, crisp image, here is the most likely definitive version of JUSTINE DE SADE. Because this complete uncut version contains scenes without English dialogue (and also because the film was shot in French), the preferable audio option is French with English subtitles. However, it should be noted that the subtitles aren’t the results of a proper translation, but merely a transcription of the English dialogue track. Take for example, an opening scene of Juliette speaking in a tavern. While on the French language track she has no dialogue, the English track and subtitles add a line of dialogue: “You know that I’m not all that innocent!” In the same scene, Juliette’s husband takes aside Justine’s guards to ask them to speak to their prisoner. The French track has no dialogue, but once again, dialogue is added in on the English track and subtitles. This is a sign of unfortunate laziness on the part of Blue Underground, usually so thorough when it comes to including multiple language options.

While Claude Pierson and Alice Arno are nowhere to be found, apparently, extras are limited to a deleted scene (an unused illustrated prologue with no audio), an alternate scene (a clothed version of the Monk orgy), and two trailers. The French trailer is almost wall-to-wall scenes of Alice Arno being tortured, raped, and humiliated, set to an irritating and out-of-place synthesizer score. On the other hand, the English trailer (using the title THE VIOLATION OF JUSTINE) tries to sell the film as a horror film (“written by a man whose works were so terrifyingly perverted that a horrified world created the word sadism to describe his evil!”). The narrator claims that it is the first adaptation of the de Sade novel, shot on-location in the real castles of the time, and a familiar stock scream is used to ill effect. (Casey Scott)

Actors: Alice Arno, Marco Perrin, Chantal Broquet