Friday, 23 August 2013
Jess Franco's Eugenie De Sade
"Pleasure is always at someone else's expense."
he late, great Soledad Miranda is joined by Franco regular Paul Muller for what is often cited as the most faithful celluloid adaptation of a Marquis De Sade tale. Based on the novella "Eugenie De Franval", Franco's take involves a most unsavoury relationship between Eugenie and her stepfather, Albert Radeck. In De Sade's story, their status was actually father and daughter, with a real sea change occuring on Eugenie's 14th birthday when Albert made her his mistress. Although Franco changed much of the original narrative - therefore falling well short of any claim pertaining to that 'most faithful' tag - his version is most certainly alive with the spirit of De Sade
The film begins as Atilla Tanner (Franco) sits at the bedside of Eugenie, who promises to relate her story on condition that Tanner kills her on completion. Tanner, an author who aims to write a biography on the Franval's, agrees and sits back to hear every sordid detail of their life and crimes.
Although Eugenie De Sade runs for less than 90 minutes, Franco crams an awful lot into his film; particularly during a remarkable first act, sowing the seeds of disgust as Albert introduces Eugenie to the delights of pornography, making it clear there are to be no boundaries. As the pair grow ever closer, Albert announces a business trip to Paris, where the couple will commit the 'perfect crime'.
Although Franco steered clear of replicating De Sade's father and daughter partnership, he undoubtedly succeeds in creating an unsettling air of familial perversity, with shots of Eugenie's teddy bear reminding us that a hitherto innocent young girl is now approaching the dark side of human nature; an entrance that is marked by Albert's confession that he was forced to kill Eugenie's mother, in order to raise and groom his intended one true love (Albert's wife, and a third party named Valmont, both figure strongly in De Sade's novella).Soon, Eugenie is a willing accomplice in Albert's quest for the ultimate in erotic entertainment, though his demands will eventually lead to the realisation of his worst nightmare.
The subsequent downwards spiral is, perhaps, too brisk to really catch fire - particularly during a most unlikely courtship between Eugenie and one of her intended conquests (musician Paul, played by weakest link Andre Montcall) but Miranda and Muller never miss a beat en route to the tragic conclusion.
As with most Franco films, there are a couple of scenes that really do linger in the memory: the De Franval's first murder is captured on camera as a young model (Alice Arno) takes part in a photo shoot that will culminate in her death. It's here that Eugenie makes her killer's debut, taking the part of make-up artist, producer and executioner. As Albert's camera approaches a frenzied climax, Bruno Nicolai's lyrical score suddenly mutates into disorientating free-form jazz; a head-spinning combination that will surely wipe the smile off the face of any Franco detractor. The second inspired set-piece occurs when the De Franval's develop a taste for hitchhikers; this time, it's Greta Schmidt (playing terminal chatterbox Kitty) who joins the ranks of Franco's 'slaughtered broads', taking centre-stage in a party game that must figure as one of Franco's most erotic creations. The man himself also plays a significant part in front of the camera, emerging as a directorial detective who loathes and admires his quarry.
Eugenie De Sade was the first major starring role for Soledad Miranda who, to avoid shaming her parents, used the pseudonym 'Susan Korday' (aka Korder): this disguise would be used again for Spanish language prints of films where Miranda was required to appear nude, and the name was a combination of novelist Jacqueline Susann and the great Alexander Korda. While it's a real pleasure to witness one of her most affecting performances, it's also a genuinely moving experience as one is rarely more than a minute away from remembering that her time amongst us was all too short.
Thanks to the wonderful medium of DVD, Eugenie De Sade has joined a growing library of choice cuts from the Spanish maestro. The Region 1 release - from Wild East Productions - apparently contains an acceptable transfer of this low budget film, with the added bonus of an "Unfinished Franco" supplement, comprising of 18 minutes of footage from 3 aborted projects shot in b&w between 1978-80 (one segment featuring Susan Hemmingway). While Oracle Entertainment's Region 2 UK release does not include this footage, their presentation of the main feature is nice and sharp, with strong colours. By all accounts, this is a far superior transfer though Franco completists may well look beyond this delicately balanced trade-off and purchase both.