Monday, December 14, 2015

Bordel SS (1978)

AKA Bordello a Parigi (Bordello in Paris)

Unlike fellow Euro cult contemporaries Jess Franco and Jean Rollin who turned to adult features for financial purposes (or had their films meddled with by producers and distributors who later added hardcore inserts) and usually worked under pseudonyms, José Bénazéraf had no issues whatsoever taking the hardcore route, proudly signing his name on all his adult films earning himself the moniker “the Goddard of porn”. Although Bénazéraf didn’t make the full jump into the adult film market until the mid-70’s, the seeds for his transition were planted long before with his films drawing the ire of the French censors with their melding of sex, violence and radical politics which eventually led to Bénazéraf’s Joë Caligula (1966) being outright banned the night before its intended premier, a stunt which cost Bénazéraf one million of his own Francs. Bénazéraf was once quoted as saying “In bourgeois society, eroticism is a form of anarchy” and like many others of the era considered making adult films a form of social rebellion but he also believed that it could be done artistically, although he would eventually begin shooting on video with increasingly low budgets. Out of all of Bénazéraf’s hardcore films, Bordel SS is perhaps the most interesting as it see’s Bénazéraf trying his hand at the nazisploitation subgenre and the resulting film turned out to be one of the most ambitious entries said subgenre has to offer.

During the Nazi occupation of France, one particular Paris brothel becomes a popular hangout for a Nazi unit stationed nearby. Captain Willhem, a decorated and highly respected Nazi commander soon becomes a regular, although complications being to arise when Willhem finds himself falling for Amelia, one of the prostitutes, whom unbeknownst to Willhem knows more than she should regarding the war as she’s providing information to the resistance movement, putting herself and the rest of the prostitutes in grave danger.

Bordel SS is certainly an oddity in that despite being not just a nazisploitation film but a hardcore film belonging to a subgenre notorious for its rampant sleaziness, those looking for a barrage of bad taste will quickly become bored with the film. Bordel SS is first and foremost a story driven film, however there is one thing that holds in back in the eyes of many and that being the editing in the Italian version of the film, which is the most widely available, is rather choppy and as a result the narrative probably doesn’t make much sense. The fact that the film is non-linier also adds to the confusion however with subsequent viewings more loose ends are tied up and the film feels more complete. Clearly the story came first for Bénazéraf as the actual hardcore scenes feel almost like an afterthought although Bénazéraf’s occasional use of mirrors does add some visual flair. What’s also refreshing is that the prostitutes aren’t simply fodder for the sex scenes, they’re all fairly rounded characters each with their own distinct personality and the way Bénazéraf has Willhem’s “relationship” with Amelia play out is quite interesting. That’s not to say that Bénazéraf completely forgets about the mandatory nazisploitation sleaze as its well represented here in the form of the bizarre sadomasochistic lesbian fantasies (which eventually become reality) of an imposing female Nazi officer and torture via electrocution. The film also benefits from high production values featuring authentic looking costumes and even some WWII era vehicles.

Bordel SS is also notable for featuring a still dark haired Brigitte Lahaie in an early role. Although her part is technically a supporting role, it didn’t stop distributors Punch Video from making her the main attraction on the VHS box when the film hit video. When it came to working with Bénazéraf, Lahaie had mixed feeling stating in the episode of the 1999 Eurotika! documentary series centered around Bénazéraf “Bénazéraf is a crazy man you know. Sometimes it was wonderful and sometimes is was very bad… he don’t like people, he don’t like actresses and don’t like actors. It was difficult to work with him”. Bordel SS also has the distinction, perhaps due to its nazisploitation credentials, of being one of the easier Bénazéraf films to track down in an English friendly version. The film does have an official DVD release in France from a company called LCJ who also released Bénazéraf’s Joë Caligula, Frustration (1971), The French Love (1973), Le bordel 1900 (1973), Anthologie des scènes interdites (1975), Brantôme 81 (1981) and Les contes galants de la Fontaine (1981) although unfortunately none of the discs are subtitled. In pure Bénazéraf fashion, Bordel SS is a film that’s liable to frustrate many, however Bénazéraf’s ambitions with the film make it unique in the field of nazisploitation and the type of political (s)exploitation film that only Bénazéraf would be audacious enough to make.

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