Tag Archives: Amy Hesketh

Le Marquis, Part Three: Insights from the Producers

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

In this third post we’re going to take a look at the “arc” of  Le Marquis de la Croix. 

Jac Avila’s and Amy Hesketh’s remarks come from the commentary section of the DVD. I’ve used their thoughts to build my analysis of film.

As always, I encourage everyone to watch Le Marquis and interpret the story for themselves. To check out trailers from the film, click here.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films.

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Personal Catharsis

Amy Hesketh gives us a snapshot of the type of characters she and Mila Joya play in Pachamama productions.

Roles like Zynga are “special” for a woman, the director of Le Marquis declares, because they become a “personal catharsis.” In other words, an actress encounters experiences beyond her present reality and the range of emotions that accompany them.

Amy mentions death as an example.

The director also believes that films like Le Marquis concentrate on image making as a statement of art. The tortured woman becomes poetic especially when portrayed by the talented Mila Joya.  She expresses so much without words, Jac Avila interjects, using her eyes to communicate pleading, pain, and resignation.

Intimacy

There is another character in Le Marquis: the setting. It dictates the narrative, emerging as a force that brings out the pain suffered by both victim and torturer. Other Pachamama films like Maleficarum and Justine also do this well.

The dungeon is a state of anima/animus and yin/yang, Amy believes, opposites that are psychological constructs of the self. In other words, the torturer and his victim develop a personal intimacy within the confines of the chamber.

“There’s something that happens in this whole arc . . . the characters are together” in their state of mind, she says.

Their intimacy emerges. Zynga often gazes at the marquis with abject servility, offering herself to him while he worships her as the object that gratifies his sadism.

Do they have real affection for each other? Perhaps.

At any rate, the tension between denial and survival further defines the arc of Le Marquis.

To put it another way, Zynga’s needs are physical and immediate; the marquis’ are psychological and emotional. Both are sides of human existence that combine to form a whole person severely circumscribed within the miserable confines of the prison.

Consider this, the torture scenes reinforce one kind of denial when Zynga begs for the wine so she can physically survive; whereas, another version of denial, this time psychological, is overcome when the aristocrat gives in to his need to increase the intensity of the tortures.

In Le Marquis survival is at stake in the power play between the dominant and submissive. As Amy puts it, the desperate gypsy makes a deal to be sold rather than being executed only to discover her choice will lead to her doom.

That, I think, is the “arc” that Amy creates with her performances and directing, not only in Le Marquis but other films as well.

An Intimate Position

The image of Zynga in chains is a device of suffering, Amy asserts, but it’s also erotic. The marquis’ control over her and her reaction to the tortures are part of the carnal appeal of the film.

In truth, it’s the psychological essence of sadomasochist sexuality.

Accepting that vision, Amy comments on the rack scene. It offers a different feel from whipping because the victim is lying down which injects a sensual component into the scene.

She references the rack as “an intimate position like someone sitting on the side of the bed and talking to you.” This scenario creates “an emotional and physical dialogue” between torturer and victim.

We see it in Ollala, for example.

How easy is it then for the marquis and Zynga to take the next step and become lovers? After all, the victim is open to penetration were that a choice the torturer decides to make.

In Sade’s writing, that line is crossed frequently, but only suggested in Le Marquis . . . or at least we suppose.

A Violent Act

Amy Hesketh emphasizes the rack’s sadomasochitic implications by underscoring sex as a violent/aggressive act often witnessed in animal mating behavior. For Sade, torture is part of a sex act that exists within in the mind, she believes.

This is in play when the marquis touches Zynga lovingly, then releases the tension only to begin the process again. On a metaphorical level each pull of the ropes is a moment of ecstasy for both the masochist and the sadist . . . an orgasm, so to speak.

Later in the preparing for Zynga’s crucifixion, the nobleman runs the tip of the nail over her cheek and body in a gesture of admiration and sacred adoration.

The emotional intensity is breathtaking.

Of course, the nails will penetrate Zynga’s body in an intimate act much like Dracula’s blood sucking when his phallic-like fangs puncture the flesh.

So how far can we go in equating sex, the act of procreation, with the end of life? I suspect Amy is telling us it is part of the “arc.”

It’s worth mentioning that hints of sex and torture as interchangeable parts subtly pervade films like Justine, Dead But Dreaming (consider the vampire roles of Jac Avila and Mila Joya) and Barbazul (the erotic writer, Jane, is whipped and strangled when she resists Bluebeard’s offer to sexually “play”).

But Le Marquis presents a twist. The gypsy’s sexual presence is so overwhelming that she emotionally emasculates her torturer in the best moments of denial in any Pachamama Film to date.

How do we know? Study the marquis at his desk writing and sipping wine while Zynga suffers behind him. His manner defines what it means to be clinical, distant, and devoid of overt emotion before modern psychology studied such things. Simply put, he has repressed his need to “feel” in order to sate his deviancy.

Frozen in Time

Amy Hesketh comments that the Marquis de Sade lived in his mind. His psychological self and his world were well-developed because neither extended beyond the walls of his prison.

In Le Marquis, Amy puts this observation into play. When Zynga becomes part of her torturer’s limited universe, he introduces her to severe acts of misery then follows the gypsy’s agonizing rhythms as her suffering intensifies.

It is the motion of the sexual, waves of ecstasy crash and recede in the poetry of the human condition.

Her painful contortions devolve into images frozen in time when she loses consciousness.

Zynga’s crucifixion animates this point. Amy states that she wants to create visual representations much like “a painting from a book” when shooting such scenes. It’s another way of interpreting the “frozen moment.”

To “Feel” Something

Though Le Marquis is told through a progression of images depicting the gypsy’s gradual descent into the horrors of the abyss, Amy points out that audiences today are not shocked by physical depictions of blood and pain (modern slasher films probably contribute to an ennui that numbs all of us).

On the other hand, persuading people to “feel” something in that regard, to get them to take notice, so to speak, is new.

To do that, film must become a mirror, she implies.

“The only emotions you can show someone are their own,” Amy declares. The key is to find the triggers that engage the viewer.

Le Marquis reaches for that difficult goal.

Next the fourth post will look at the Zynga’s crucifixion as a statement of the sacred feminine.

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For my review of the other Pachamama Films mentioned in this analysis, check the following: Dead But Dreaming (May 2016), Ollala (July 2016), Barbazul (September 2016), and Justine (December 2016).

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Le Marquis, Part One: The Museum

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

Le Marquis de la Croix is a film by Amy Hesketh that features Jac Avila and Mila Joya. It is available for download or on DVD from Vermeerworks.

This is the first of a five-part series on the film and combines a review with commentary from  Amy and Jac. The final post is exclusive to Mila Joya, the star of the film.

Le Marquis is another provocative work from the collaboration of Amy and Jac. I highly recommend it.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films.

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The Story

The wealthy marquis, sentenced to his prison confines (luxurious as they are), writes lurid accounts of his sexual imaginations. Fortunately for his perverse addictions, an occasional condemned female criminal is brought to him for a price.

Such is the case with Zynga, a gypsy girl sentenced to death, as the marquis tells us, for “three crimes: murder, theft, and arson” (borrowed incidentally from the Marquis de Sade’s 1791 novel, Justine).

The film explores the tortures Zynga endures and her eventual demise. The story is presented as a narration extracted from the marquis’ writings in his cell. As he completes one torment and plans the next, the aristocrat returns to his desk to record his thoughts and lets the viewer into his mind via voice over.

The bound and naked Zynga is the consistent background image and the main motif throughout the film.

Strikingly Innovation

Le Marquis de la Croix is a literary fantasy that operates on different levels. On the surface, it has definite appeal to the BDSM community. Heavily sadomasochistic, the whippings and rack scenes are about as exciting as a bondage film gets. It is realism personified.

The film does, however, offer more. There is an engaging political and religious message that is as appropriate today as it was in Sade’s time, the 18th century setting of the narrative.

Told with a modern flavor, the story also hints at the erotic fascinations of a modern tourist who seeks out a museum then confronts her own sexual fantasies in an ending that, as they like to say in commercial media, is priceless.

Clearly, the American tourist lets us know that whims of the Marquis de Sade are more accepted today than ever before and perhaps more fascinating.

As you might have deduced, the film is a story told concurrently by a contemporary museum guide and the marquis’ pen. Whose imagination brings the story to life is always in question as we work through the film.

Clever, strikingly innovative, and beautify filmed, Le Marquis de la Croix highlights the emergence of Mila Joya as an actress. Though she has few lines that are often blunted by the pain of torture, her performance is exemplary.

The native Bolivian uses her physical expression, particularly her eyes, to tempt, seduce, and react to her torturer, who struggles against his own sexual arousal to complete his self-appointed task.

Jac Avila is the story’s creator; Amy Hesketh the film’s director. The pair also produced the film while Miguel Inti Canedo serves as the chief cinematographer. His image making is exceptional. By that I mean this: any number of stills he took could have easily served as the box cover for packaging the movie.

A final caveat before we look into Le Marquis: there is a commentary section available on the DVD that features Amy and Jac. As noted in the intro above, I have referenced their remarks where appropriate in this series of posts.

Back Streets

Le Marquis opens with an American tourist (Amy Hesketh) checking her guidebook for an out-of-the-way museum in the back streets of a contemporary South American city.

Locating her destination, she descends a stairway into an underground cavern that looks much like a dungeon which of course it was centuries ago.

The museum guide (Eric Calancha) is talking with a couple (Jac Avila and Mila Joya) and welcomes the tourist to the group.

He references a cordoned off area that was the Marquis’ cell. The tourist is wide-eyed and fascinated; the couple, probably on an afternoon date, appears mildly interested and, at times, the girl seems cautious, restrained, and perhaps a bit uneasy (setting the viewer up for her transition into the film).

As the guide talks, the camera moves into the cell and the marquis becomes animated but in whose mind–ours, the guide, the couple, or the tourist?–we don’t know.

In period dress, he is writing at his desk, candles provide the light throughout his expansive environs where the film takes place.

The Gypsy

As the guide explains, the nobleman was imprisoned and “because of his wealth, he could buy women . . .”

Brought in by a paid confederate (the second role for Eric Calancha), a gagged and manacled girl appears behind the marquis . . .

“. . . Women who were condemned to die. There was a person who brought him women in exchange for a sum,” the guide says.

The marquis in over voice brings the story into focus.  “There are no limits to what I can purchase. Zynga the gypsy . . . was sold to me bound in chains full of fear, hunger and rage.”

The marquis (Jac Avila) drops a small bag of coins in the confederate’s hand and Zynga (Mila Joya) is offered a chance to avoid the guillotine.

But as the money predicts, she will receive a proper scourging and crucifixion for her decision in a political mockery of the Christian faith.

Next we will look at the images and themes of this extraordinary production.

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You can follow Jac Avila:

 

And Amy Hesketh:

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Amy Hesketh, Part Two: Sex and Art

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Here is the second installment of my interview with Amy Hesketh, producer/director/actor and founder of Decadent Cinema.

For newcomers to her work, Amy is a native New Englander. Her professional film career began under the tutelage of  Pachamama Films’ Jac Avila.

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Yes and No

My talk with Amy Hesketh continues. The subject turns to a staple of her films: nudity.

Do the actresses take on the amount of nakedness they are comfortable with?

Yes and no, Amy responds and cites Maga, the singer in Barbazul, as a prominent example. The actress, Paola Teran, was open to whatever Amy wanted and had no personal issue with baring it all.

However, the screenplay had a determining factor built in.

barbazul01093712-2Like Blubeard’s other women, Maga is murdered. In the scene, she’s wearing a great-looking outfit, Amy says, which offered a practical benefit.

“I was doing my own effects and it helped that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time making the wounds in front of her,” as would have been required were she totally nude.

But that’s only part of the story. Amy explains that the film “had a lot of palettes” and as the director, she pays a significant attention to color and how it relates to the composition of a shot.

“Essentially when you look at the frame, there’s a certain amount of color in the composition, so if she (Maga) were nude there, she clashed a little bit [because] purple is her color and I didn’t see enough of it in the rest of the shot, so I needed it there because otherwise my palette would be off.”

As for the writer Jane, her color is pink, Amy adds, a good thing since she ended up playing the role herself.

“My skin is fine, it went with the palette.”

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Consequently, after a number of test shots, nudity was a fit for Jane’s character.

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The Storyboard

Once the basic narrative and characters are in place, how do they shape the finished film?

To begin with, Amy has a vision for her production which includes the film’s palette and mood. Often she relies on storyboarding, a popular technique used by fiction writers, cartoonists, playwrights, and others.

Then as the plot line takes shape the characters will go their own way. Often conflicts come out of a character’s back story which opens the door for further creativity.

“When I’m writing, a character becomes real and fleshed out. Obviously the actor’s interpretation becomes slightly different, so I tend to go with that,” Amy says, because she doesn’t want to force any cast member into “an unnatural performance.”

Her style is to let things find their own direction, a flexibility not every director possesses.

The payoff is a worth it.

“There are a lot of wonderful surprises when you’re shooting a film, so if you can go with that and learn how to write it in and direct it, then you have something magical, something beautiful and spectacular that comes out of it,” Amy concludes.

Speaking of characters, Amy’s work appears to use location as an animated character. Is that an accurate assessment?

“Absolutely, I generally use locations as characters. [In Barbazul] the hacienda is a character in the sense that it is the patriarch/matriarch. It’s the glue that holds everything together. It represents the oppression of the past,” Amy says.

In Ollala another old house is center stage. My guess is the upcoming Pygmalion may also have one.

“I often have old houses in my films because I find them to be this oppressive force,” Amy says.

“It’s the weight of history. It’s something I’m constantly pushing back against with my films so it’s often a character in my films, a character in my life.”

Rabbit Hole

What is her most difficult challenge when she’s in front of the camera?

“The hardest thing for me with a character is losing myself in the character,” which in her view can become risky considering the types of dramas Pachamama/Decadent Films produces.

Amy understands that her productions can be a gamble when it comes to its effects on the actors. As director she must assume some responsibility for any negative outcomes the cast might suffer as a result of filming.

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“So if you’re [the director] leading this person down a rabbit hole that is not nice, it’s your responsibility to care for them afterwards, make sure that they are alright and can get out of it. It often takes a lot more work than leading them into it,” Amy declares.

Of course for Amy, she is often her own director and that presents further issues.

1505228_10151835599527882_1712782730_n“I haven’t really had much help with that in my films, so that’s the hardest part for me. I’ll chose these characters so in order to portray them I have to travel to very, very dark place inside myself. And getting out of that becomes this terribly hard work, rather difficult and painful work to create other pathways.

“The most difficult part for me is getting back to myself and be in a positive space, to be happy and not to be in a dark miserable place.”

I mention her role in Maleficarum where she is tortured and crucified in the name of religion.

It took her two months to climb out of that abyss, Amy recalls.

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The Eroticism of Torture

Finally, we talk about her fan base and I offer that part of her following must be BDSM fans who relish the eroticism of her torture scenes.

Are these fans attracted to her work because of it’s perceived pornographic slant?

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Amy replies she doesn’t know much about pornography and doesn’t consider her films to fall under that umbrella. But she knows some fans may see her performances that way and she’s okay with their interpretation because there is “a certain niche market of people” out there who follow her.

dbd00490414-2“Yeah, I have a whole fan base that buys my films. It’s pretty much split down the middle between [S/M fans] and cinephiles who like art films.”

Amy welcomes all points of view and when it comes to the fetish crowd, she states, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either. It’s marvelous. I wish we weren’t so condemning [of them].”

Amy ‘s final thought ties everything together with a bit of wisdom.dbd00552817-2

She remembers the words of a professor she at Bard College where she got her undergrad degree. He related a point he learned from one of his profs: when it comes to stimulating the mind, “If it’s not sexy, it’s not art.”

Amy Heskeths’s films are certainly art, and she is superbly sexy. . . and an absolute delight to talk with, I might add.

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Amy can be found on instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

To purchase Amy’s films, check out Vermeerworks.

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Baroque and Gothic: Views of Justine

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Followers of this blog know I’ve reviewed, or should I say deconstructed and analyzed, several of Amy Hesketh’s and Jac Avila’s films.

And, there’s more on tap in the future.

Fortunately, Amy and Jac took time to talk with me about their storytelling and directing, the topic of this series of five posts.

In this installment we’re looking at Justine, a film released through Vermeerworks and reviewed on this blog in December, 2016.

The adaptation and directing are Jac Avila’s with Amy appearing as Justine.

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Martyrs Anyone?

To get us started, Amy compares Jac’s thematic perspective with hers. A quick glance at Dead But Dreaming, Ollala, Barbazul, and Justine affirms her view.

“Jac has a very baroque perspective of character and I have a very gothic perspective.” Amy begins.

“You could say we have opposite points of view a lot of times. He loves martyrs. He adores them. It’s that baroque Catholic upbringing. For me, I do not have that so I view them as silly and passive-aggressive. I’m quite dismissive of them.”

But Amy is quick to add, “I feel like that has actually helped us work together.”

Justine is rife with religion motifs, I mention.

“Oh yeah. That’s from him,” she says with a smile. “My view of religion is extremely dim.”

Amy notes that Jac has a “more analytical standpoint” on faith, which she feels on principle is “much more harmful than good.”

Break the Wall

So how might Jac’s baroque paradigm influence Amy’s performance in Justine?

First, her interpretation of the Marquis De Sade’s Justine as novel and character is not generous.

“I will confess I did not make it through the entire book because it’s so tediously written.”

Despite her weariness with De Sade’s literary style, Amy read enough to get a flavor for Justine as a character, but couldn’t empathize with the silly girl’s tribulations that went far beyond normal human endurance.

Her attitude toward Justine soured.

“I hated Justine, I fucking hated her!” Amy declares.

Not surprisingly, things then got difficult.

“For me, I have to find a way into a character [and the story] in order to act it, write it, direct it. For Justine, I tried a lot of different angles. I just couldn’t find that way in.

“So we worked on her character. Jac and I tried to look at her from different perspectives and eventually we nailed it.”

Amy explains Justine is portrayed as a “kind of victim. . . with a certain passive-aggressive knowledge of what she is doing.”

As a cinematic team they pulled it off beautifully, particularly in the scenes where Justine endures the whip and applies it as well.

Amy’s idea to create a workable version of Justine’s character was to break the fourth wall with her as narrator, though Justine’s sister, Juliette (played by Cortney Willis) also uses the technique.

So, how to persuade Jac?

His bathroom is decorated with black tile, so Amy came up with a clever plan.

“I had this idea writing with chalk on the tile. Eventually he noticed it and over time thought it’d be a good idea. So we went through the script and blocked off and changed some of the dialogue so I would be speaking directly to the audience.”

Dark Humor

From my perception of their work, I suggest to Jac that Amy seems to select roles that involve victims of emotional pain and physical torture like Mariana in Maleficarum and her portrayal of Ollala. What’s his take on that?

“The characters she plays appeal to her, yes, and at the same time scare her,” Jac says.

How about Justine?

“In her view Justine is an idiot,” Jac explains. “However as in any art, a part of us is in those characters and a part of our experience is expressed in them. In some cases it becomes cathartic.”

Good point and it’s an injustice to suggest that Amy’s performance as Justine, sprinkled with a severe dose of vacuous submissiveness, is anything short of spectacular.

Setting aside for a moment Justine as a leading character, Jac offers his perspective on the novel and it’s not far from Amy’s and his honesty is laudable.

“You read the book, so you know how complex, long, sometimes even boring, the story is.

“It’s built on dialogues and monologues, speeches, really, with two points of view expressed through many characters with the same voice, except for Justine, who speaks for ‘virtue.’”

The characters Jac references try vainly to convince Justine that ‘vice,’ their reason to be, is far superior to virtue.

Jac also mentions an unintended shortcoming of Justine that affects how we see the story.

“The translation from the old French probably takes away something that is part of De Sade’s mind. Dark humor. He’s making fun of his society.”

And that is exactly why breaking the fourth wall works so well in the film. For example, check out Amy’s deadpan and creepily amusing delivery of Justine’s comments while she is raped after her public flogging.

 

Jac continues…

“De Sade is wordy to the extreme, as you know, and most of the book is either Justine’s monologues or long, unending dialogues and discussions impossible to film without putting everyone to sleep. I made my own story taking those passages in the book that I felt could be translated into a visual story.

“I cut the dialogues to a minimum, and altered the ending completely. I used the characters I liked the best, some retained their storyline while Rodin, the leading male character, became the puppet master. The narrative is still in the hands of Justine.”

Again, the value of the fourth wall technique, it drives the story forward and gives the viewer a taste of De Sade’s cynicism.

Who gets Directed?

So what can we say of Amy’s input into Jac’s film?

Enough apparently to highlight Justine as an extension of what can more broadly be called the Avila/Hesketh “Baroque/Gothic Collaborative Process.”

“Amy and I collaborate very closely in all the films, we both produce them. We discuss the scripts, always. We both contribute to each other’s movies with some ideas, suggestions, and so on. I do the editing, mostly, so I do work on the structure of the story, but either me or Amy, depending on who’s directing, decides the pace the film will have,” Jac explains.

Sounds good, but what is Amy’s take on their joint venture when he’s in charge?

As we’ve seen, she internalizes her character before they discuss her perspective on the role she is playing.

It’s a process familiar to Jac.

“It’s so thorough and so detailed that essentially there will be no surprises for him,” Amy remarks.

“We have extensive conversations about my character and he pretty much knows what I’m going to do,” she says, so in the end, “Jac really doesn’t direct me very much.”

She defines their on-set teamwork as “more of a dialogue.”

On the other hand, what happens when they switch professional “hats,” so to speak, and she becomes the director?

Amy chuckles in that endearing way that highlights a warm relationship long in the making.

“I direct him heavily,” she muses. “I really hammer on him because he has lots of habits and things like that.”

So, does gothic win over, or win over, baroque?

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In the next post, we’ll meet the two actresses who join with Amy to play the trio of victims in Justine and get their perspective on their roles.

Before we do that, however, why don’t you take a moment to watch the cast test the wheel for the film here and here.

And, for an earlier look at Jac Avila, check my three-part blog series published in August, 2016.

 

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Five

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! This last installment of Justine discusses the film’s ending, but only partially. For the final resolution watch the film.

Justine is available through Vermeerworks in a download format or in DVD for those who want their own home library.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama/Decadent Films.

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To Know the Unknowable

As Justine moves to its final outcome, Juliette takes center stage and tells her sister about their past.

Her narrative takes place at the pillory but it is interwoven with scenes of Juliette inspecting the dungeon where she amusingly caresses the restraining ropes and turns the wheel of torture.

In an empowered moment feminists will admire, Juliette holds a flogger and pulls it taut.

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“With the figure and age we both had, we could not die of hunger,” Juliette recalls. “These speeches horrified Justine. She declared she preferred death.”

And what of Juliette, a criminal at fourteen? She never looked back.

“Prosperity . . . soiled with crime and horrors” brought her to this moment, she says.

The triumph of vice looks down upon the humiliation of virtue.

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Jac Avila uses Juliette’s cynicism to confront Justine’s faith as the curtain begins to descend.  It goes straight to the heart of the story, the pretense to know the unknowable.

Thirty-Nine

A redemptive moment in the bedroom prompts Justine’s promise to help Omphale escape (a vague reference to the novel when both were imprisoned in the monastery).

It’s all for naught, of course. Sade reveals that such promises are never carried out.

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Justine is captured along with the other girls and the connection to the film’s opening scene is now complete.

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Justine is sentenced, whipped, and pilloried.

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The others receive their marks in kind . . .

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. . . with Rosalie’s particularly graphic in a marvelously shot BDSM scene.

“Behold poor Rosalie. Born to be sacrificed. She will receive thirty-nine lashes of the whip,” Justine laments, addressing the camera once again.

Rodin is creating “his own version of the passion play with his daughter as the sacrifice,” she adds.

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Thirty-nine is forty minus one, the number given Christ (forty was thought to bring death) and thirty-nine is three times the unlucky thirteen revisiting the number archetype we’ve already referenced.

Go back and check the opening scene, Justine passes out during her scourging following the thirty-ninth lash.

The Cross

After the march to the crucifixion site . . .

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. . . the sacrificial victims are positioned on a tripod-like configuration (the number three again) that is actually a drying rack for animal hides typical of native cultures.

Rodin taunts Justine about the pain of the nails (in the novel he brands her as a whore) and looks proudly at his work for the benefit of the crowd.

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Juliette approaches her sister.

“I will not share your pain . . . I will not take you down from your cross.”

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In truth, Juliette cannot.

Justine is being punished for transgressions Sade, her literary creator, charged her with three centuries ago. In the novel when Rosalie is awaiting death at the hands of her father, Justine abandons her.

“I only thought of fleeing,” she says, though admitting that “leaving an innocent victim” to her fate was painful.

Grappling with her circumstances, Justine chooses self-preservation, preferring to “instantly set off on foot” to get away from the evil Rodin.

Her hand is in Rosalie’s murder as surely as if she were in that fatal room.

Now it’s pay back. Retribution.

Justine’s devotion to virtue has shortsighted her humanity allowing Jac Avila to brilliantly tie his film to Sade’s novel.

Our heroine will die with Rosalie . . . and with her devoted friend from the Sade’s monastery, Ophmale, whose skull Justine finds when she escapes the devilish monks.

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Do You See Paradise?

As it happens, there is a final irony in this film that Sade would appreciate.

Justine’s death is a parody of Calvary . . . she is one of the criminals, an unwitting fate for the virtuous.

With unexpected compassion, Juliette promises Justine that perceived injustices (a satrical play on her name) will be punished demonstrating that virtue is often hidden within vice.

But the unknowable always lingers.

“You must answer me something,” Juliette says, gazing up at virtue’s disgrace. “Do you see Paradise? Do you see Hell waiting for you?”

She emphasizes “hell” with dripping scorn that mocks the blood on her sister’s body.

Justine utters, “I only see darkness . . . “

So then, we ask, what is the fate of virtue? Perhaps nothing more than the pretense to know the unknowable.

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Final Thoughts

Both the Marquis de Sade and Jac Avila question the central conundrum about God that has forever perplexed the faithful.

Is He merciful or simply whimsical?

Sade the atheist dismisses the argument altogether as illustrated when Justine is imprisoned in the monastery’s collection of tortured female flesh.

To make way for new girls, current ones are regularly discharged (murdered) but without any particular reason. Age, attractiveness, attitude, nothing seems to determine who is chosen and why.

Jac Avila has a larger, moral take on the question. To understand how he handles this deeper issue, view this thought provoking film and watch for what is not included here.

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Before we close, a word about the cast.

Amy Hesketh moves Justine’s character from Sade’s pathetic, clueless girl to an assertive woman who must deal with her fate. It is an admirable performance.

Cortney Willis is perfect for the haughty, arrogant, but sympathetic Juliette and Jac Avila artfully captures the indifferent Rodin, a scientist unmoved by the misery of those around him.

Mila Joya, a veteran of Pachamama/Decadent productions, and Beatriz Riveria have few lines but carry each scene with their interpretation of torture and suffering. Both women are exotic beauties who make luscious victims of Rodin’s evil ways.

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Kudos to all.

*          *          *

Congratulations to Amy and Jac for another superb and highly recommended film . . .

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And to Amy, Mila, and Beatriz for braving chilly weather to bare it all for art!!

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Three

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The ending of Justine is revealed in the final installment of this five-part review.

Writing about the Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton,” the Huffington Post’s Catherine Rappell said, “Art should be political (as this brilliant show already is, in spades). Artists should be political, too.”

Consider her words as we further our look at Justine.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/ Decadent Cinema.

*          *          *

justine-bookWithin the pages of Justine, the Marquis de Sade rails against the Church and the worthlessness of virtue.

A self-proclaimed atheist, Sade writes of a vice-ridden world that takes what it wants and offers no quarter.

In his film version of Justine, Jac Avila explores Sade’s idea through one of the Marquis’s characters, Rodin the Scientist, who assumes a God-like role in the name of science . . . appropriate because the story takes place in the Age of Enlightenment.

This updated Rodin is not an atheist in true Sadean fashion, but he is a libertine, a political philosophy that also came to mean sexually obscene in Sade’s time.

And there’s one more difference. Rodin gives his victims a taste for vice that goes beyond Sade, empowering the feminine to criticize and inflict pain, if only so briefly.

Friday Punishments

Following the slave auction, Justine finds herself in Rodin’s home. His attentions make her uncomfortable.

“What need has he for a third woman, I asked myself? Why must they all be so pretty?” she says, again breaking the fourth wall.

Taking Justine to a secret panel in her bedchamber, Rosalie pulls back a curtain to reveal the dungeon where Rodin conducts his Friday punishments.

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Her father comes up with “trifles” to justify his pleasures, Rosalie explains.

Today, it is Omphale. As Justine watches, she turns to the viewer. “For libertinage alone,” she declares, “the passions he carries to its extremes.”

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Denouncing her father as a monster, Rosalie says he has “a grand plan divine” for her and it is not pleasant.

“Poor Rosalie is doomed.” Justine pronounces with resignation.

Truth and Perfection

The film now moves into the dungeon for an extended display of Rodin’s sadism. S&M lovers will sit up and take notice.

After finishing with Omphale, the scientist puts Rosalie on the rack in a crucifixion position that presages what it to come.  He explains to Justine, the now unwilling third victim in this Biblical farce, his libertine philosophy.

“I seek truth, I seek perfection,” and that can only be done by offering “the cruel death of our firstborn.”

In a parody of the Church, Rodin will be God, his Christ a female.

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In other words, Jac Avila challenges Sade with a contradiction that is political to the core.

Rodin is a usurper, a pedophile, an incestuous sadist who dances in the forest with the devil. Yet he recognizes what Swiss psychologist Carl Jung asserts is the duality of man.

Jung asserts that the definition of God (Good) is silent without its opposite, evil, which gives “good” its meaning. Likewise, virtue can only be understood through examining vice.

What’s more, Rodin is raising the earthly female to equal Christ, creating his own collective of tortured martyrs and flings it in the face of the Church. Christ only has meaning through the existence of woman.

In an ironic twist, it is a feminist statement that decries the Medieval Church’s patriarchal attitudes on one hand while revealing the Christian disdain for the sexually open “fairer sex” on the other.

He Shall Rule Over You

Rodin passes the whip to Justine.

ja98Looking into the camera, Justine reminds us that God curses and punishes Eve “because she has eaten from the tree of knowledge.”

Justine the virtuous suddenly becomes Justine the enforcer, inflicting agony under the cover of religion in a victory for vice . . . at least momentarily.

Forcefully striking Rosalie, Justine again directs her attention to the camera’s eye.

“Intense,” she declares with conviction and lands another blow on the bloodied girl. “And prolonged pain (another strike) meted out as punishment (another crack on the suffering Rosalie) appears almost immediately in the pages of the Bible.”

Omphale now takes the flogger as Rodin lays Justine on the floor and penetrates and debases her simply because he can. Feminism is empowered, then violated.

Justine hurls a political invective at God about the pain of childbirth.

Rodin pumps away; her anger builds.

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Speaking directly to women, Justine continues with dripping sarcasm.

“Yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”

This is feminism in its most dramatic moment, a belligerent and contemptuous rejection of a male hegemony born of the faith.

This is not Sade’s Justine, not even close.

It’s a superb piece of filmmaking.

From Victim to Participant

After her rape, Justine is the next object of Rodin’s amusement. Put on the rack, she is pulled taut, screams, and is released for another go in a repeated chorus of revenge, martyrdom, and sexual brutality.

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Later in the bedroom, Justine and Rosalie spread Omphale’s arms restraining her as she is having sex with Rodin. Justine whips the girl while she “enjoys” a ride of pain and pleasure.

At this moment, Justine is not a victim, she is in control, a libertine-in-waiting who metes out ecstasy with every stroke.

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Is this virtue’s revenge, or virtue merely on hold?

And, what is the larger question?

Perhaps it is that virtue and vice are interchangeable and no one can be distinctly one or the other despite Sade’s best efforts to prove otherwise.

Nothing Better?

Returning to the dungeon, Rodin takes up Sade’s argument on eternity, but gives it a perverse spiritual touch.

Referencing his intentions with Rosalie, he says to Justine, “If nothing is lost to Nature, if nothing perishes . . . if a decomposed body just awaits dissolution merely to return in another form, then this act of cruelty and murder is indifferent.”

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Justine slowly and deliberately claps her hands in mockery and disgust.

“I applaud you, our dear lord and master. Your wisdom astonishes me, but your indifference confounds me. I thought you amorous.”

Feminism strikes again and Justine parlays it into a brief, commendable moment.

But wait, is she really addressing the supposedly loving God whose motivations are pure guesswork?

Rodin’s replies he tortures when he has “nothing better to do.”

Are his words a tribute to the Old Testament God who reigns misery on mankind seemingly without purpose and a reference to Sade’s monks who in the end dispatch their victims without rhyme or reason?

With that, Rodin furthers his entertainment and puts Omphale on the rack.

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Obviously, Rosalie’s decomposing body is destined not be alone.

The Wheel

A motif of the extended torture scenes is the wheel in Rodin’s dungeon. He puts each girl on it in turn.

The device is a nod to the Inquisition, the stock-in-trade of the Medieval Church. The wheel secured its victims for, among other things, a good flogging. To the delight of the perverse inquisitors, whipping was the pretext for exposing female flesh in the name of redemption.

Incidentally, Rodin’s wheel only turns in one direction, left to right. When one girl is punished, the others rotate the wheel, in effect taking the scene back in time when the Church’s word was unassailable.

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Oh yes, the wheel also shows us that throughout the ages women are the submissives in a never-ending cycle (circle?) of male dominance.

When this scene winds down, Rodin gets a bottle of beer and pauses to admire his work . . . a tribute to sadomasochism turned into art!

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Rosalie is on the wheel, Omphale on the rack (which has its own wheel for increasing the pain, incidentally), and the raped Justine chained to the wall with a metal collar and heavy ball pressuring on her neck.

Beauty has no limits.

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The next post will look at the imagery Jac Avila employs to enliven his narrative.

*          *          *

No matter whose film it is, Amy and Jac are always working together for the best outcome . . .

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And sometimes more discussion to get things just right evolves into a group effort . . .

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Two

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The ending of Justine will be revealed in the final installment of this review.

I’ve said previously that Jac Avila/Amy Hesketh films are worthy of academic study. Keep this in mind as we go through the rest of this multipart review.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema.

*          *          *

From her predicament in the pillory, Justine’s story continues.

She landed in prison for crimes she did not commit and is now “on the brink of paying with my life,” she tells Juliette.

For the moment, Jac Avila is on board with Sade as outlined in Justine, Part Two: Novel to Film.

Here’s a quick summary to give us a flavor of how this part of the story is cinematically handled.

Lost Virginity and a Murder Plot

Justine escapes her confinement thanks to Dubois and her gang. A prison fire provides cover though, as we’ve mentioned, the blaze exacts its price in consumed victims.

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Once free, the gang (Justine is now one of them) roam a local road and run into a merchant named Saint-Florent (Erix Antoine). The outlaws make their intentions known and Justine manages to prevent Saint-Florent’s death by claiming him as a relative.

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Satisfied with their conquest and profit, the gang imbibes too much and Saint-Florent and Justine simply walk away.  Later the cad leads Justine into the forest where he relieves her of her virginity after knocking her cold.

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Left alone, the violated girl wanders the woods and comes upon the Comte de Bressac (Alejandro Loayza) and his valet (Rodrigo Leon Leon) engaged in a bit of homoerotic delight.

Notice the small white bubble-like lights that drift from the bottom to the top of the screen. They’re the visual “stars” of Justine’s dazed and muddled brain as she stumbles into a scene that shocks her.

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Befriended by the count, Justine learns of his plot to murder his aunt. She is to be his accomplice.

Of course, Justine refuses to deliver the poison and is beaten and destined to be torn apart by Bressac’s dogs for her insolence.

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From here, Jac Avila departs from Sade. Before looking into how he changes the scope and message of the story, the focus of the next installment of this review, a couple of points need visiting.

Time

Jac Avila’s narrative cuts across time in such a way as to universalize the story and playfully push Sade into this century. We see this in two instances worth noting.

The first is an image. When Justine and Saint-Florent are walking along a road, there are two discarded automobile tires off to the side. The camera focuses on them. Why?

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The positioning of the tires (one looms over the other) is indicative of the questionable “path” our virtuous girl is taking in her journey. Vice awaits Justine who will, like the tires, soon be beaten down, worn out, soiled, and discarded.

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Before reaching the end of her dismal adventure, Justine is deflowered and sold into slavery to be tortured and sodomized.

The second reference related to time counterbalances the tire imagery.

In a seemingly odd moment, Saint-Florent tells the gang his horse’s name is Athena.

As the film heads for its conclusion, Juliette identifies herself to Justine as a “Priestess of Venus . . . whose fortune is the product of a pretty face and much misconduct.”

Considering the ingenuity we’ve come to expect from a Jac Avila production, there is more here than a couple of names.

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Athena is the patroness of ancient Athens, but she is also a virgin. On the other hand, Venus is the Roman version of Aphrodite, the symbol of female seduction, sex, and lust. Consider that the Romans conquered the Greeks as part of their empire building and the contrast is clear.

aber58-75Athena and Venus are the clash of virtue and vice before the coming of Christianity.

In other words, virtue versus vice is as old as mankind and as so often happens, vice wins . . . thus the reason for the rise of the faith!

Still, that is not the complete picture Jac Avila is showing us.  Justine eventually indulges in the taste of the libertine (albeit forced upon her, one could argue), enjoying brief  moments of vice Sade never considers.

Will Heaven take its revenge assuming, ahem, there is a paradise? We’ll revisit this question before time expires, as they say in sports.

The Auction

The film is now ready for its departure from the Marquis’s narrative.

Jasmin suggests to Bressac they profit from Justine. Rather than feeding her to his dogs as Sade illustrates (see Justine, Part Two: Novel to Film), Bressac agrees to sell her into slavery. The underground auction is the work of profiteers because eighteenth century France had outlawed all slavery beyond its colonial holdings.

The buyers in this flesh for sale crime are libertines with designs that compel abducted women to suffer the whims of others.

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Justine is naked and humiliated by the proceedings. The bidding is fierce with Juliette going against Rodin who is present with his possessions, Ompahle and Rosalie.

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Our virtuous misfortunate is inspected (the marks of her beating at the hands of Jasmin are severe) and sold to Rodin. Juliette loses to the villain here, but will triumph in the end.

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Justine’s nightmare of confinement and torture amidst Rodin’s political and philosophical arguments is just beginning.

*          *          *

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that the performers in Jac Avila/Amy Hesketh films are truly a neighborhood theater group much like Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater on the Air in the age of Radio.

Having fun among friends is an ingredient Pachamama/Decadent camaraderie carries into every film.

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