Monday, April 21, 2014

The Sexual Story of O (1984)

Anne Desclos’ 1954 novel Story of O which was published under the pseudonym Pauline Réage is easily one of the most well known titles in all of transgressive fiction, right up there with Sacher-Masoch’s Venus In Furs, Catherine Robbe-Grillet’s The Image and of course all the works of the Marquis de Sade. The novel was most famously adapted to the screen in 1975 by Just Jaeckin of Emmanuelle (1974) fame stating Corinne Cléry and Udo Kier but there have been several films that have been inspired by the novel, some more loose than others. Before Jaeckin’s film, underground legend Kenneth Anger helmed an unfinished short based on the novel, Danish provocateur Lars Von Trier directed a short film as an homage to the story in 1979 and the book even found itself the subject of a 1992 Brazilian mini-series amongst many, many others. Considering the sadomasochistic subject matter of Desclos’ original novel, it would seem to be the perfect type of thing for Jess Franco to film a version of. Not exactly. Despite having the words “Story of O” in the title, by Franco’s own admission, 1984’s The Sexual Story of O has much more in common with de Sade than Desclos’ source material, and much like Franco’s other de Sade inspired films, The Sexual Story of O is one of his most unforgettable as well as one of his very best films.

While vacationing in Spain, Odile (Alicia Príncipe), a young, voyeuristic American tourist catches the eye of exhibitionist couple Mara (Mari Carmen Nieto, billed here as Mamie Kaplan) and Mario (Mauro Rivera). Despite the language barrier, the three are acquainted and immediately become very close and share many an intimate moment. Mara and Mario invite Odlie to accompany them to the island home of their friends the von Baky’s (Carmen Carrión and Daniel Katz) for further enjoyment, however unbeknownst to Odlie, Mara and Mario have ulterior motives for inviting Odlie to the island and the Princess and Prince von Baky’s idea of fun is far more sinister than what Odlie is used to experiencing with Mara and Mario.

Unquestionably one of Franco’s darkest films, the influence of de Sade in The Sexual Story of O (Historia sexual de O) is ever apparent. The film shares many similarities with Franco’s interpretation’s of de Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom, namely Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion (1969) and Plaisir à trois (1973) as well as the heavily Sadian influenced Countess Perverse (1973). The film is yet another example of Franco returning to previously explored themes and ideas and putting a fresh spin on the proceedings. Franco may have dealt with this type of material many times before this film and would explore it again in future films, but what sets The Sexual Story of O apart is its tone. Never before had Franco told this type of story in such a downbeat fashion. With the exception of Odile, everyone of these characters has a grim disposition about them giving the film an incredibly morose tone which Franco juxtaposes rather nicely with his constant showcasing of the beautiful island settings and numerous close-up’s on flowers which Franco also contrasts with the films gorgeous yet melancholy main theme which plays throughout the film. Cues from the Female Vampire (1973) soundtrack are also heard several times to great effect. The film is also notable for having a finale that has the potential to knock the wind out of anyone who’s become invested in the film, with the events leading up to it containing some of the most striking and nightmarish imagery Franco ever concocted.

Another thing to note about this film is aside from Carmen Carrión and Daniel Katz who Franco used in other films, this film features none of Franco’s regular cast members. According to Franco in the “Franco’s O” interview segment on Severin’s 2007 DVD release of the film it was an attempt by him to “avoid his own clichés” although he goes on to say he believes it really didn’t work as he didn’t do more films with this cast. With all do respect to Jess, the cast is flawless, Alicia Príncipe in particular was perfect for this film and the fact that the film packs such an emotional wallop is a testament to her screen presence. Although only a brief 15 minutes, that interview with Franco on the DVD is one of the more interesting interviews conducted with the man particularly when he opines on de Sade believing that de Sade is more often discussed than actually read and states one of the reasons he took a more Sadian approach with the film was because de Sade was a better writer than Desclos, and Odile was much more Justine that Desclos’ O. A wise decision as The Sexual Story of O is not simply one of Franco’s best films from the 80’s its again one of his best films in general, a quintessentially Franco and Sadian experience and one that’s not easily shaken.

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