Last year, Blue Underground released a fantastic disc of Jesús Franco's EUGENIE DE SADE. My review of the film:
Fri., 11 April, 2008
Jesús Franco is a fellow about whom I've written here in the past. One of the most prolific filmmakers the medium has ever seen, he was one of the fellows Phil Hardy covered in the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HORROR MOVIES whose work sounded utterly fascinating but was virtually unknown in the U.S. Tim Lucas wrote a groundbreaking survey of it in FANGORIA in the 1980s and he was featured in his own chapter of Tohill-&-Tombs' IMMORAL TALES but it wasn't until the advent of DVD that his work began to circulate like mad here and, exceeding even the decades of anticipation enthusiasts had stored up, he became a full-fledged cult legend (after nearly 50 years in the business, his movies are now financed by his fans).
One of his absolute best films (and to be clear on the point, Franco has a lot of those and you've never seen one Franco until you've seen them all) is EUGENIE DE SADE from 1970. The movie has been released to North American DVD twice, once by Wild East, which mostly specializes in spaghetti westerns, and next by Blue Underground, which specializes in just about any sort of arty--or not so arty--cult film.
The movie--obsessive, disturbing, and still darkly romantic--is based on "Eugenie de Franval," by the Marquis de Sade but updated to a modern setting. It tells the story of Albert Radek, a quite brilliant but very twisted writer (played by Paul Muller), and his step-daughter Eugenie, whom he has raised from birth. Because of censorship concerns, Franco didn't make her his real daughter, as in the book. In the film, Muller's wife had already been pregnant when he married her, she'd died not long after giving birth and he'd raised Eugenie himself. But not necessarily out of fatherly love. He had a much darker agenda, as we soon learn, one that would have raised the hackles of censors if she'd been blood kin. Radek has, in fact, raised Eugenie to be his perfect companion, a lover and a collaborator in his various and sundry crimes. He kills people. He does so just because he likes to do it and, more importantly, because he likes to prove to himself that he can get away with it. Eugenie loves him. He's been her entire world for her entire life. When he reveals his purpose, she's sucked into his madness and the movie records it all.
Eugenie is played by the ravishing Soledad Miranda, then one of Franco's regular stable of performers, and she has never looked better than in this film. Only 26 at the time, she pulls off a balancing act in her performance that would have been impressive for an actress of twice her years. Eugenie willingly participates in all of her step-fathers' horrors, yet still retains an air of innocence--she is a victim as well as a perpetrator. One online review of the film said Paul Muller is totally miscast as her stepfather and I couldn't disagree more strongly. His intensity is piercing and he nails every note of his performance like a virtuoso. It is, in fact, difficult to imagine anyone else in the part.
Jesús Franco often writes himself into his own films in some way. These aren't token cameos in Franco's hands. Rather, they're like his own running commentary on himself and on his own work. In EUGENIE DE SADE, he casts himself as a writer named Tanner who seems to be wise to what's happening with Radek and his step-daughter. He shadows them throughout the picture but doesn't want to stop them or turn them in--he just wants to watch and to record it all. It's through his efforts that we hear the story. (In an interview included on the Blue Underground release of the film, Franco, apparently feeling a bit cheeky, rejects rumors that he and Soledad Miranda were ever lovers, saying their relationship was more like that of a father and daughter.)
The visuals are Franco at his best--slow, consuming and mesmerizing, with bright, expressionistic splashes of color. Special kudos belong to the films' excellent score, another shot out of the park by Bruno Nicolai. Like Eugenie herself, it suggests both innocence and corruption--the tragedy of the tale in music. Like the film itself, it's quite beautiful and the use to which it's put is a perfect marriage of image and sound.
Appropriate to the material, the atmosphere in this one is stifling at times. It's dark subject matter and the film, while never flinching in its display of the more disturbing elements, eschews any moralizing. We're told the tale through a subjective, dreamlike narrative offered by Eugenie herself to writer Tanner/director Franco. I imagine some will feel the need for a shower after watching it. One shouldn't feel too dirty, though; this is great movie-making.