Monday, April 7, 2014

How To Seduce a Virgin (1973)

AKA Plaisir à trois (Pleasure For Three)

Its no secret that a good portion of Jess Franco’s massive body of work could be considered “variations on a theme” with Franco returning to several themes and similar ideas numerous times throughout his career. One of the most amazing things about this was no matter how many times Franco re-visited a certain subject matter hardly any of the resulting films felt like rehashes of previous films, each film had its own identity. Beginning in 1968 with the underrated Justine, one constant source of inspiration for Franco was the Marquis de Sade. Franco found himself retuning to the writings of the infamous Marquis as source material many times with films such as Eugenie de Sade and even continuing into his digital era with Helter Skelter (2000) and Flowers of Perversion (2005). Out of all of de Sade’s texts however, Franco’s obvious favorite was Philosophy in the Bedroom. Franco first brought the story to the screen brilliantly with the masterpiece Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion (1969) and adapted it several more times, each time putting his own unique spin on the story. Shot back to back with Countess Perverse (1973), How To Seduce a Virgin is one of Franco’s best treatments of the de Sade story along with being one of the best films to come out of one of Franco’s most prolific periods working for French producer Robert de Nesle.

After being released from a sanitarium for castrating a lover, Countess Martine de Bressac (Alice Arno) returns to her estate and its immediately apparent that her time away did little to cure her deviancy as she immediately retreats to her “museum” as she refers to it, a basement dungeon where her previous victims reside, frozen in a lifeless mannequinesque state by the Countess. Her husband Charles (Robert Woods) proposes to the Countess a new game which she falls in love with instantly, to lure Cécile (Tania Busselier), the young virginal daughter of a diplomat whom Charles had befriended while Martine was away into their home with the sole purpose of corrupting her innocence and ultimately adding her to the Countess’ “collection” in her museum.

How To Seduce a Virgin or Plaisir à trois as its been known to most Francophiles over the years is another prime example of Franco being one of the few filmmakers who’ve approached the works of de Sade to actually “get” de Sade even when taking quite a few liberties with the original writings. Just as Franco did with the previously mentioned Eugenie, here he takes the basic set up of the original de Sade story and takes it into some pretty unique places that are both quintessentially Franco and de Sade at the same time and place this film at another level that other films of this sort. Perhaps the best example of this would be Martine’s “museum” with her collection of mannequin like victims (“mannequin” is the closest term to describe them as they really are unclassifiable) and Franco’s eye for unusual settings with the de Brassic’s home ranging from normal in spots to what appears to be a converted cave which Franco uses to enhance the already slightly “off” mood of the film. Again, this film was shot back to back with Countess Perverse and also features an identical cast with some clever role reversals. While Countess Perverse isn’t technically one of Franco’s de Sade adaptations, the Sadian influence couldn’t be more obvious and the two films make for a perfect double feature. Its also important to note that this was the first film to really feature Lina Romay in a prominent role as the de Bressac’s mute servant Adele.      

In October of 2013 Plaisir à trois joined The Diabolical Dr. Z (1965), Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac (1973), Countess Perverse and Lorna the Exorcist (1974) in getting a brilliant DVD release courtesy of Mondo Macabro under the How To Seduce a Virgin title. The release features two excellent interviews, the first being with writer and certifiable Franco expert Stephen Thrower who goes into pretty good detail regarding how this film fits in with the others that came out of this this period of Franco’s career as well as the influence of de Sade and as Thrower puts it, the “musical chairs” type of casting featured in several of Franco’s films, especially during the period in which Plaisir was made. Thrower also discusses the censorship issues that the film and Franco constantly faced in the UK which is particularly interesting considering the somewhat low-key nature of the film. The second interview featuring screenwriter and Franco collaborator Alain Petit is another treat as Petit gives a nice, detailed rundown of Franco’s de Sade adaptations and briefly brings up Franco’s attempted adaptation of de Sade’s Juliette which was never finished on account of the death of Soledad Miranda. Naturally the film itself looks fantastic which should come as no surprise considering the past releases from Mondo Macabro, and not just the Franco titles. An absolutely must have release for a crucial Franco film.

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