Monday, July 28, 2014

Frustration (1971)

AKA The Chambermaids Dream

The term “rebel” tends to get thrown around rather liberally and in the case of cinema its often a bit questionable whether or not some of the people who are labeled as such are truly deserving of the tag. When the major figures of European cult cinema are discussed however, the term is more than accurate with filmmakers such as Jess Franco and Walerian Borowczyk amongst several others that made films (for the most part) on their own terms with no attempt to pander to the critical establishment. If there’s one Eurocult auteur who defines words like “rebel” or “maverick”, its José Bénazéraf. By his own admission Bénazéraf was the type of person who, if told not to do something would react by doing that thing in question ten times as worse, something which landed him in hot water with the French censors which eventually led to the banning of his 1966 film Joë Caligula the night before its intended premier. Aside from royally pissing Bénazéraf off that stunt by the censorship board cost him some serious coin and would play a major role in Bénazéraf eventually getting fed up with making “normal” films and eventually crossing over into full on hardcore territory. Prior to taking the hardcore route Bénazéraf helmed some truly unique films all of which bare the trademarks of a defiant artist with 1971’s Frustration easily being Bénazéraf’s undisputed masterpiece.

Adelaide (Janine Reynaud) is a single woman living with her sister Agnes (Elizabeth Teissier) and Agnes doctor husband Michel (Michel Lemoine) in their secluded countryside home. Along with being a bit socially awkward, Adelaide is sexually repressed and frustrated and constantly witnessing the affection between Agnes and Michel isn’t helping. Its apparent that Adelaide is attracted to not only Michel but her sister as well and soon her sexual frustration begins to manifest itself in the form of bizarre hallucinations which become increasingly more violent and sadomasochistic as Adelaide slips further and further into sexual psychosis.

What on paper might sound like a so called “Euro trash” riff on Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) quickly reveals itself to be something much more. Frustration is one of the best examples of Bénazéraf’s mastery of mood resulting in a film that implants itself not just in the psyche but under the skin as well which might not have been the case had it not been for the brilliant performance of Janine Reynaud. The film is light on dialogue so Reynaud’s performance is all about body language and facial expressions. Her strong presence coupled with the films lack of dialogue along with the sense of isolation from the films setting make for a fairly original type of unease. Its as if Bénazéraf’s intention is for the discomfort to be felt while watching the film is not simply psychological but physical as well. To literally “feel” Adelaide’s repression. Frustration is also one of the most imaginative films to come out of the golden era of Euro sex and horror films with Adelaide’s fantasy’s ranging from a sequence of a series of seemingly endless doors being opened revealing Agnes and Michel in variety of sexual positions to a scenario being played out in a medieval dungeon. Bénazéraf's presentation of Adelaide’s hallucinations, often loud and energetic, provide a nice jolt due to their abrupt change in tone from the majority of the films unsettling quietness. Amazingly Bénazéraf even found a way to sneak in a brief political discussion. It just wouldn’t be a Bénazéraf film without one.

One of the most frustrating aspects regarding Frustration, and for that matter the majority of Bénazéraf’s films is its current English friendly home video status. Several of Bénazéraf’s films have official DVD releases in France, Frustration included but in America currently the only film of Bénazéraf’s to have an uncut release is Sexus (1965). His debut film L'éternité pour nous (Eternity For Us, 1963) is available on DVD-R from Something Weird in its English version known as Sin on the Beach, the only issue being that its around 20 minutes shorter than its original French version. His follow up film Le concerto de la peur (The Concert of Fear, 1963) also received a release in its English version entitled Night of Lust which is an edited 58 minute cut. Irritating to say the least. Frustration did get an uncut VHS release back in the day on the Private Screenings label under its absurd alternate title The Chambermaids Dream (surly one of the most ridiculous re-titles a Euro film has ever gotten) and thankfully DVD-R’s are easy to track down and most seem to be sourced from that tape so until Frustration finally gets the proper North American release it deserves those curious about the film would be wise to seek out the DVD-R, as Frustration is easily Bénazéraf’s best film. As far as this type of cinema is concerned, Frustration is required viewing.

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