Tag Archives: Beatriz Rivera

The Passion of Isabel: Part Two

by Rich Moreland, November 2017

This is the second part of my review of The Passion of Isabel, a Red Feline film starring Beatriz Rivera as the victim and Jac Avila as her torturer, Torquemada.

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The Passion of Isabel sticks with its erotic theme throughout.

No Escape

For instance, food is important imagery. Torquemada teases Isabel with water to replenish her energy and eventually brings her rudimentary nourishment after he has kept her confined for two days. She’s offered an apple and a small loaf of bread, both highly sexualized symbols.

Eating is a Freudian symbol for sex. Isabel is capitulating to his sexual control over her. When he tempts her with the apple in an Adam and Eve reversal, Isabel looks into his eyes with submission in hers.

Torquemada leaves the apple so she can feed herself in an act that implies dependence and obedience. He controls his prisoner totally now and wants her strong enough to endure the abuse she will suffer. Taking the food from Isabel, Torquemada stands her up for the first round of punishment, the exquisite whipping scene mentioned in Part One of this review.

Other symbols enhance Isabel’s enslavement. During her second rape, Torquemada chokes her with the chains that keep her under his control. In BDSM play, restricting breathing during sex increases its orgasmic intensity for the masochist.

Is Isabel being taught to perversely enjoy her trials?

Another prominent image is the metallic collar which is prominent throughout the film before it is locked around Isabel’s neck. When it is on the floor on its side, the camera shoots the scene through it, framing the device with a double meaning. It represents Isabel’s manacles and its round opening is a clear statement that this is a highly sexualized film.

As a foreboding of her death, Torquemada hangs Isabel in another erotic act. He stretches out her neck with the chain attached to the collar, once again suppressing her breathing and intensifying her sexual experience as he takes control of her soul.

Notice the other circular object, the pressure belt, is secured around her waist and also acts as a metaphor for the female sex. Isabel’s youthful beauty is slowly strangling her as the collar and the belt act as opposing forces.

There is no escape. She suffers because she is desired.

Rack and Wheel

A ladder becomes a rack to stretch Isabel’s body in the proper manner prescribed by the Inquisition. As Isabel’s misery continues, close-ups of her face underscore looks of desperation and defeat.

Her whimpering increases as the intensity of her trials is ratcheted up, but she never screams or cries out. Even as the end nears, Isabel displays a fortitude that is commendable.

When the film returns to the circle motif, the scenes move to the breaking wheel, sometimes called the Catherine Wheel. Isabel’s whippings continue and to increase her humiliation, Torquemada confines her in two ways: on the rim of the wheel with her back arched and then spread-eagle on the spokes in a crucifixion position.

Beatriz Rivera deserves high praise when she is stretched on the rim. Because the weight of her body pulls her down, she is steadied by the rope around her upper body and between her legs (sensationally erotic since she is nude) while the camera captures her pain.

Though accustomed to acrobatic maneuvers to show the sex they are having, only top of the line adult actresses ever deal with such an unnatural position.

Torquemada asks, “Do you repent for your father’s death?”

Isabel remains defiant, smiling slightly and shaking her head with a “no, no.”

There’s more lashing, rape, and anguish before the film’s denouement.

Allegory

In the final crucifixion, Isabel is subjected to probes with sharp objects (the medieval test for witches) and the pressure belt to add to her torment. Torquemada nails her feet and hands and rotates the wheel so that Isabel goes from the upright Christ position to the upside-down configuration of St. Peter.

When the crown of thorns is placed on her head, there are two single branches pointing upward resembling the horns of Satan. It’s a comment that Isabel’s tribulations symbolize the fight against evil that reaches into eternity. Pay close attention when her eyes look upward.

Isabel’s stoicism soars to its heavenly heights at this point. Rightly or wrongly, she accepts the responsibility for the crime she stands accused of committing and understands her punishment.

One more observation is worthy of comment. The ball attached to the pressure belt is allegorical. The pre-Christain Atlas bears the weight of the world just as Christ takes on the sins of man.

Isabel has clearly moved from sinner to saint and as the film closes. A heartbeat is all we hear. It slows, becoming almost imperceptible into eternity with the message that death is a state of mind rather than a spiritual end.

Bea’s Triumph

In the first part of this review, I suggested that Beatriz Rivera learned her craft in the film Justine and has now matured into an artistic performer in The Passion of Isabel.

This juxtaposition of a sixteenth century story in a twenty-first century film is evident in Bea’s performance. First, she rises to fame as an erotic actress. Notice, however, that she parts with Amy Hesketh and Mila Joya when she trims and partially shaves her pubic area so the female sex is on-screen. She lets us know she’s a modern bondage star and a woman making her own statement of sexual liberation.

What’s more, the decision to leave in the stud in her nose and her single ear piercing establishes a contemporary identity. Throw in her tattoos that are only lightly covered with make-up (the one high on her back is not) and we have the kind of presentation that excites today’s BDSM aficionados.

What of Bea’s acting?  As mentioned in part one, her range of expressions are largely non-verbal which requires concentration and awareness of what the scene is asking of her. She is subtle in her message of suffering.

Not only that, but her whipping scenes are realistic. At no time does she appear as a caricature of a victim. The viewer can feel her pain and the lingering agony of her relentless torture.

For these reasons which move Beatriz Rivera as actress beyond her lovely nakedness, Red Feline fans are going to demand more from this Bolivian sweetheart. Her film presence is pure erotic pleasure marked by the whip.

Final Thought

In Part One of this review, I pointed out the difference between the three tortured women in Red Feline/Pachamama Productions I’ve reviewed.

Bea’s performance in Isabel clearly delineates how differently she handles the erotic role of the tortured female from Amy Hesketh and Mila Joya. Bea is not horror-oriented as is Amy. Her pain is internalized so that crying out and screaming is not reflective of how she portrays pain. Likewise, she is not the submissive and docile character that appeals to Mila. Bea is defiant and in many ways totally feminist.

The magic of a Jac Avila film library allows the viewer to choose and appreciate the different ways talented actresses approach their masochistic roles and the brutal situations they find themselves in.

As for Bea in  The Passion of Isabel, she yields in the end, but the viewer gets the feeling that her heart never really stops beating.

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A Jac Avila film rarely disappoints even the harshest critic. Yes, his work is not for everybody and the viewer must have a taste for the performance art the Red Feline/Pachamama studios present.

At no time are the actresses abused, but as Jac will tell anyone who will listen, shooting his films can be an arduous experience. The scenes are hard on the body and the psyche, but each performer values the opportunity to make her own artistic statement.

Keeping this in mind, our wholehearted thanks is extended to all the women who appear in Jac’s films, and particularly to Beatriz Rivera as Isabel, for enriching our film experience.

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The Passion of Isabel: Part One

by Rich Moreland, November 2017

Entering its eighteenth year of production, Red Feline Pictures (RFPIX) continues its mission to bring BDSM film to a niche audience fascinated by crucifixion themes hammered and nailed with religious imagery.

The films typically center on a single female and her suffering under an oppressive regime or doctrine, such as the Inquisition, or as a product of her own fertile and willing imagination.

The Passion of Isabel stars the incomparable Beatriz Rivera as the heroine and longtime Red Feline actor and director Jac Avila as Torquemada.

In addition to Isabel, all of the films mentioned in this review are available at Red Feline and have been reviewed on this blog. I encourage anyone who wishes to purchase The Passion of Isabel to read my analysis of the other movies to get a further flavor of the Red Feline/Pachamama Films product.

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The Passion of Isabel is set in early modern Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Age of Discovery promises the dawn of a new day that will challenge outdated belief systems.

However, for the youthful and beautiful Isabel, the old ways remain in place. Her father has arranged her marriage to an aristocratic friend named Torquemada and announces it publicly.

“Isabel is called to her father’s side at the high tower in a palace,” we are told, where she refuses the union, asserting that she will be her own woman and make her own choices.

“Enraged by this public humiliation, her father rushes to chastise her. To free herself from his grip, she pushes him, causing him to fall from the tower to his death. This dooms Isabel. For she is locked in a dungeon to await trial.

But there will not be any trial… Her fate now rests in the hands of Torquemada. And he has only one goal: Destroy the woman who humiliated and rejected him.”

If there is a single weakness in this film it is illustrated above. The viewer is not introduced to the story and instead is taken immediately to the dungeon where Isabel will suffer at the hands of Torquemada. To fill in the gap, I encourage everyone to read the entire description (parts of which I have quoted here) on the Red Feline website.

An introductory explanation during the opening credits would have helped set the scene, especially since the DVD is not packaged with a box cover that would include a brief synopsis.

But that is the only shortcoming in The Passion of Isabel. For BDSM fans who crave the vision of lovely female flesh resisting and succumbing to pain, this film fits the bill.

Your Body or Your Soul

The story opens with Isabel brought into the dungeon where she will face the judgement imposed on her by a deranged mind, her “crime” a mere excuse for unabated sadism and the sexual satisfaction it brings.

“Why do you have me here? You know I’m not guilty.” She questions.

Torquemada, who has no interest in consoling her, grabs Isabel behind the neck (which he does frequently in the film), and announces her father died disappointed that his gift to a friend turned into a “rebellious daughter” who needs to be chastised.

“He wanted you to be mine. You’re mine now and you’re going to pay for what you did to your father.”

Isabel is angry, telling him he knows it was not her fault.

Unmoved, Torquemada asks which is stronger, her body or her soul, then lets Isabel know both are now his.

From here the movie examines the miseries Torquemada inflicts on his victim. Among the whippings and rack and wheel tortures, there are the repeated simulated rapes.

Does this make Passion a horror story for an a mature audience? Perhaps, considering that most people may not want the kids to watch a naked woman abused and used. But, there is no hardcore sex and certainly no gore. This is not a slasher film.

So, what is it? For some viewers, Passion is soft porn (because of its nudity) marked with ordeals of pain. But that is hardly adequate. From my perspective, Passion is exactly what makes the Red Feline label popular: an outré, extravagant, and kinky art film with an undeniable erotic overlay.

The Erotic

Yet, what is erotic has as many variances as there are film fans. Having said that, it is too easy and grossly unfair to dismiss Red Feline productions like Martyr, Agent X, and Red Room as mindless female torture movies. Like Passion, they explore the psychological aspects of how we as a society view our sexuality, especially the masochistic/sadistic paradigm.

Over the years, the Red Feline label has matured in its technical presentation and Passion, at this point in time, has reached cinematic excellence. Visually, the viewer will be stunned by the clarity of the sadistic trials Isabel must endure.

What’s more, actress Beatriz Rivera has an overwhelming assignment in this film: show Isabel’s evolution from angry resistance to total submission. Torquemada breaks her so that she may reach her “understanding” in peace.

Because dialogue is sparse, Bea must reveal this transformation with her eyes, her expressions, her body positions, and her cries. In effect, they become the dialogue of surrender.

Bea’s gift is her ability to do this in a way that is steeped in our old friend, eroticism. Isabel is no passive whipping toy. She’s a fighter with whimpering her only concession to Torquemada’s abuse and asserts her feminist belief in her own sexual power. She may break in the end, but her torturer will work hard for his triumph.

Bea as Isabel bravely endures her pain to the excitement of the BDSM crowd. But that is only part of her appeal. She uses Isabel’s anguish to seduce even the most casual viewer. It’s a rare talent indeed.

Take, for example, the first whipping scene. Isabel’s arms are manacled in a crucifixion position and she growls at Torquemada, “Why are you doing this to me? Damn you, get off me.”

But for Isabel, from now on it’s all downhill and there will be no tears only quiet resistance that still flickers at the end.

By the way, this a fabulous scene. Beatriz Rivera’s body is exquisite, her nakedness enchanting. It is one of the best lashing sequences ever filmed by Red Feline or Pachamama Films, for that matter, and that includes the riveting work of Amy Hesketh whose filming resume is without equal in this kind of scene. That, believe me, is high praise and Bea should be proud of her performance in this segment for it alone is worth the price of the DVD.

The Victim Role Times Three

Beatriz Rivera appears in Justine, a Pachamama Film that also stars Amy Hesketh and Mila Joya who take the stage together in other films, among them Barbazul and Dead But Dreaming.

What is fascinating is how each of the actresses plays the victim role differently. Amy is horror oriented (Olalla, a vampire tale like Dead, is the best example). Her scenes carry a shock value that departs from pure eroticism because Amy believes in putting psychological terror on an equal footing with S/M for its own sake.

Amy in Olalla

Mila follows a different path. Despite a brief irascible moment as the vampire Aphrodisia in Dead, Mila is the docile submissive (for the non-torture version check out her role in Barbazul). Her suffering is preordained, it seems, and she is led to the slaughter with her gorgeous body abused and bloodied. Mila’s anguish is highlighted in both Maleficarum and Le Marquis de la Croix where she is sensationally pleasing to the sadistic eye.

Mila in Le Marquis de la Croix

Truth be told, Amy and Mila are luscious displays of female pulchritude. They are as alluring as any BDSM model in adult film and could go that route if they chose. But the question remains how to show the erotic side of sexy under the lash. Both can do that with their established reputations.

Mila and Amy in Maleficarum

Where, then, does this place Bea? Easy, the Bolivian beauty’s seductive and steamy on-camera persona challenges Amy and Mila for the camera’s eye. However, in Justine, she is learning her craft and keeps her presence under wraps. Understandable, I might add, considering that at times in the film she is overshadowed by Amy’s star power and Mila’s sultry victimization.

Bea in Justine

Plus, Bea is not totally nude, a downer for eager viewers who like their whipped women totally exposed and an indication of some hesitation on her part, at least in that film.

Incidentally, her introduction to the sadomasochistic genre of the Pachamama variety puts more emphasis on plot line than Red Feline so Bea had to demonstrate her acting skills from the get go. Not a simple task for a fresh face.

But hey, it’s a learning curve and that was her beginning. The Passion of Isabel has moved her forward in giant steps. Whereas Justine offers the viewer a taste of Beatriz Rivera, Isabel marches her onto center stage to carry the story on her shapely back, pun intended.

As Amy and Mila begin to explore other artistic avenues that may limit their futures in front of the camera, Beatriz Rivera is ready to step up to the plate, as they say in baseball, and hit a few homers of her own.

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A few comments on the technical aspects of the film are in order.

First, three cameras are used to record the scenes with a pace that is Hollywood worthy. Second, the technical quality (color and clarity) of the film is top notch. And third, in the movies timing is everything and Isabel’s suffering is highlighted by frozen imagery when the camera lingers on her beaten body after the torture has ended.

Its a cinematic moment Jac Avila has perfected that enriches the artistic vision of Red Feline and Pachamama films. The film’s message is transformed into a museum painting.

In my view, for these reasons alone The Passion of Isabel has to be the best Red Feline picture made so far.

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The Women of Justine: Part Two

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

In this second post on the interviews with Jac Avila, Mila Joya, and Beatriz Rivera, the challenges they encountered in performing in Justine are explored.

My thanks are extended to Pachamama/Decadent films for providing the many screen shots used in all of my posts on Justine.

For those interested in my review of the film, check the blog archives for December, 2016.

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Ethics

Jac Avila faced a not-so-common hurdle in making Justine. “It’s always a challenge to direct [a film], but to act and direct at the same time makes things a lot more difficult,” he says.

But there is another concern the average viewer rarely considers: the ethical demands a director faces when shooting torture scenes.

This happened with Justine which imposed a stressful decision on Jac Avila.

“Asking the leading ladies to engage in terrible acts,” he remarks, required him to “direct the film as Rodin,” the sadist, not as his real self, that of artist and filmmaker.

The result? Ethical issues forced their way into his thinking.

“As a director and human being, you have to be very careful when they [the performers] are subjected to all kinds of evil deeds, like torture, but you can’t show that concern as an actor. In fact, you have to show that you are relishing your evil doings. That was the most difficult part for me, how to be a gentleman, a scholar, a respected director while subjecting my leading actresses to unspeakable acts and enjoy it all as Rodin.”

 

Trust and Experience

From her perspective, Beatriz Rivera had to deal with adjustments during filming that were not unexpected, but stressful nevertheless.

“The most challenging [aspect] for me was to think as Omphale and not as Beatriz.

“[Being] naked takes you away from your character, especially when there are others around like the extras and crew,” Bea says. “It’s hard to be naked in front of a lot of people, so getting back to the character in those conditions was the challenging part.”

But there’s also the torture element.

“During the tortures the most difficult part was to be bound, defenceless. That was the hard part, but there was a lot of trust too, that made it easier.”

Mila Joya reflects on her experience shooting these types of movies. For those who don’t know, she is the condemned and flogged gypsy in Le Marquis de la Croix, an eternally tortured vampire in Dead But Dreaming, and the agony-ridden Maria Francisca, who along with Amy Hesketh’s Mariana, is whipped, racked, and crucified in Maleficarum.

“The whole movie is one big challenge, but for me it wasn’t that difficult because I had similar experiences like in Maleficarum. So the challenge for me was to create a different character, not similar to any other in previous movies,” Mila comments.

And, so she does. In Dead she’s the angry vampire trapped for centuries in sexual submission; in Maleficarum, Mila is a wronged and tragic figure caught in a period of Protestant/Catholic conflict. Both are much different from the doomed Rosalie of Justine, a victim of incest and sacrifice.

Speaking of crucifixions, by the way, Justine ends with a spectacular one in which Mila as Rosalie wears a crown of thorns.

 

The Closed Group

My question about how performers influence each other on-set produced three different views.

Bea offers this point. “The way others play the characters give you a cue as to how to react to them, that helps. We helped each other. For instance to be comfortable enough to ask your torturer to hit you harder with the whip, to feel it more, that helped me to play the character [of Omphale].”

Mila, a veteran of the Pachamama/Decadent Films troupe, believes “the closed group of the three of us” produced the energy to move the film forward.

“All three [roles and actresses] were very different. That had an influence in how I played my character. Not everything is in the script so there are reactions to actions and sometimes you surprise yourself with your reactions to the others. The director influenced one way, with his instructions, but as an actor he had a different influence, especially in how I had to react to him as my father and lover,” Mila asserts.

As expected, Jac lends his director/actor persona to the question.

“There’s always the influence of the others in how you perform your role and you have to be prepared [in turn] to influence [them].”

But such a forthright statement comes with a caution.

“I used the opportunity of being the dominating character to direct the actors in the ways I wanted them to perform while being painfully aware of how their reactions to my actions were causing the scene to go in a different direction than originally intended,” he admits.

“That’s always a very interesting thing to experience. How the story follows a road that was not planned at all, in an organic kind of way.”

Independent

My final thought is about independent film. Pachamama/Decadent Films is an indie company with committed, high-energy people.

What are the advantages and drawbacks to shooting an indie product?

Mila and Bea mirror each other’s thoughts in that they are of Bolivian origin and not products of the Hollywood scene.

“I can’t say anything about that. In Bolivia all movie making is independent, so I wouldn’t know. But there’s more freedom in independent cinema,” Mila predictably answers.

“Independent films use different subjects, unlike Hollywood that does a lot of the same adventures, the same romances, the same fantasies. So there’s magic in independent cinema. However, only independent films are made in Bolivia so I would not know of disadvantages.” Bea comments.

Jac proclaims that independent filming provides the freedom to shoot as he personally desires unencumbered by studio heads and the people with backing money known as producers . . . which brings up the main drawback of indie projects.

There’s never enough money, Jac says, which means “there’s a lot of compromising on the way to the end of production. Nothing is exactly how you envision it because you don’t have the cash to do what you originally wrote and conceived. You depend on what your available resources give you.”

But he hastily adds, “That, in turn, becomes an advantage, because it challenges you to be extremely creative.”

Finally, don’t forget that indie film requires everyone be on board to help with the production.

For a last word on Justine, Jac Avila reminds us once again that the story is a parody of a parody and that means filming can be a lot of fun.

Looks like Amy is hatching a plan with a little mirth of her own in mind!

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In the next two posts we’ll talk with Amy Hesketh about her views on filmmaking, directing and her psychological take on suffering . . . not to mention the easily perceived sadomasochist elements that drive a part of her fan base.

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The Women of Justine: Part One

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

In this post, Mila Joya and Beatriz Rivera who play Rosalie and Omphale respectively in Pachamama Films’ Justine, talk about how they interpreted their characters.

Director Jac Avila, who plays the evil Rodin, also relates how he viewed his role as the dominant figure in the film.

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Actresses in Jac Avila films endure the sadistic urgings of their tormenters, especially in movies like Maleficarum and the subject of this article, Justine. The film features a trio of alluring women: Amy Hesketh, Mila Joya and Beatriz Rivera.

“When they do get into their characters,” Jac says, “they go into them with intensity and completely. They become those characters for the time of the shooting.”

He remarks that the most intense scenes can take a physical and mental toll on the performers.

“The whippings hurt, the crucifixions are very, very uncomfortable and even painful, there’s a lot of real suffering going on. I do not think that any of them enjoy that, they put up with it for the art,” he concedes.

 

An Erotic Parody

Jac summarizes his basic premise in creating Pachamama Films’ adaptation of Justine.

“I wanted to make an erotic parody of a parody of the times of De Sade which, ultimately, are not very different from ours.”

With any adaptation, character portrayal is always in flux and may not always fit the original story, Jac points out, so “the characters will make a statement of some kind as you develop them.”

That’s important because Jac believes his version of Justine is “not so much an S/M adventure,” but “more like a misadventure with sadistic consequences.”

“There’s no horror,” he explains, “except for the natural horror” that plagues humanity.

“Justine is an erotic film, of course, especially if you are into beautiful ladies suffering torture and martyrdom,” he says. “All those beautiful bodies with very little or nothing covering them, is erotic in and of itself.”

As for the film’s theological comments, they reflect Jac’s Catholic upbringing.

“Justine’s quotes about God and women come straight from the nuns that were my teachers in grammar school. They were Sadean in the biblical sense,” he comments.

All Three Women are Weak

Let’s take a look at how Mila Joya, who plays Rosalie, and Beatriz Rivera, who plays Omphale, interpreted their roles. How did they see their characters moving the story forward?

To set us up for their responses, Jac first explains his part in the production.

“I play Rodin, an insidious character who has a lot of control over people’s lives and behaviour, particularly his daughter and his servant Omphale.”

The evil doctor’s “deranged whims” drive the film, Jac says. He is “god-like, as when god carries those attributes of power and evil” and “the “antithesis of Justine,” who narrates the tale.

Mila offers her view of her part in the film.

“Rosalie is a very interesting character because she’s the daughter of Rodin, there lies the big conflict, because of how ‘heavy’ [domineering] her father is. How she moves the story is complicated because there are moments where she loves Justine, she wants to help her but she can’t do anything. She knows she’s going to die, so she is resigned to her fate.

Mila summarizes Rosalie this way,

“I see her as very weak, the typical example of women that are oppressed mostly because of the time they live in.”

In fact, Mila’s take on Justine, Rosalie, and Omphale is straightforward.

“All three women are weak,” she insists.

Bea interprets her character Omphale as “totally submissive because she was under Rodin’s tutelage, power, for as far [back] as she can remember. She allies with him when he commands her to torture the others. She’s also a coward because she accepts all of his commands, never challenging him.”

“The fact that she’s Rodin’s accomplice already moves the story forward. She agrees to massacre the other girls but she doesn’t question him and doesn’t ask herself why she should experience the same,” Bea comments. “Why not have a life like everybody else, a normal life?”

On the other hand, Bea also sees Omphale as “evil and submissive. Submissive to Rodin and evil because she has no problems in punishing the others, she shows no regret, no pity.”

Though Rosalie’s helplessness and Omphale’s lack of insight into her own existence raise questions, De Sade avoids exploring the characters in-depth leaving the interpretation of how to play these women up to the actresses.

The results are thought provoking in a highly recommended film.

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In our next post, we will examine how the players faced the challenges of Justine, including the torture scenes, and how the cast interacted with each other . . .

During the shoot . . .

 

While taking a break . . .

 

And in conference to make sure everyone is on the same page . . .

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Justine is available for purchase from Vermeerworks here.

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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.

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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 Four

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The final resolution of Justine is right around the corner!

The installments of this five-part review are posted as a package but designed as stand alone essays, so you may read the ones you like and forgo the others.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama/Decadent Films.

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Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema combines erotic horror and soft core S&M action within a framework of classical literature, a rare adventure in movie making.

Dead But Dreaming’s vampire legends, Ollala (based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s vampire tale by the same name), and Barbazul (Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard”) represent avant-garde indie film that offers timeless story telling infused with adult themes.

And don’t forget, Amy Hesketh’s performance art lures everyone into her cauldron of sexuality and pain that marks (pun intended) the excitement of these productions.

Amy’s talent is on full display again in Justine. Undoubtedly her interpretation of the suffering feminine is hard on her body and eventually she will decide enough is enough. So if watching Amy on-screen is your pleasure, be sure to get a copy of this film.

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Having said that, Justine, sparks conversation in another way.

Following the footprint of the films mentioned above, Justine carries a political message steeped in images that are literary and mythological.

Let’s take a brief look at a few examples.

Three

First, the movie’s most dynamic image, the restrained and punished woman, surpasses other Jac Avila creations with the possible exception of Maleficarum.

Amy Hesketh, Mila Joya, and Beatriz Riveria are easy on the eyes and offer the visual delights of a good whipping that S&M aficionados appreciate.

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But that’s for just for starters. There’s more.

Take the archetypal number three, the staple of myth and legend which accounts for its dominance in the Bible. Jac Avila follows Sade’s lead in exploring it.

The novel mentions twenty-one victims (three sevens) consumed in the prison fire. Adulthood is also age twenty-one, a hint that when Justine escapes from prison, she is old enough to take responsibility for her decision-making, or more specifically her inaction, in a theme that runs through Sade’s work.

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Also, the dungeon candle stands have combinations of threes and sixes cleverly placed among the torture devices.

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The Circle

Jac Avila focuses on three sacrificial victims to create his religious motif.

Each girl is bound to the wheel reminding the viewer that while a patriarchal God may oversee the world, women are the source of a never-ending circle of virtue and vice–reproduction on one hand and sexual temptation on the other–that drives the human condition.

Thus we have the wheel’s most important message. Civilization’s male-dominated hierarchies insist that female sexuality is not to be trusted, so women must be confined and chained rather than celebrated.

By the way, trust makes its appearance at the end of the film in an ironic twist. But you’ll have to watch the movie to see it.

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Speaking of sacrifices, after Rosalie’s dungeon crucifixion her stigmata wounds are treated by Omphale and Justine in a scene reminiscent of the three women at Calvary (Golgotha) recounted in the gospels.

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Then, of course, there’s Jac’s version of the three crosses we’ll see later.

The Sacred Feminine or Defiant Feminist?

White is the color of purity and the girls wear white loincloths depicting the partially clad martyr linked to the Medieval crucifixion image. Only Justine is nude.

In this modern interpretation of Sade’s novel, she is both virtue and vice, honoring the complete woman and validating her defiance of patriarchy despite her humiliation.

In other words, Justine is totally exposed, the literary “everywoman.”

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When the abused girls retreat to their bed, the configuration of their bodies is a reminder of the Holy Trinity with the God/Daughter shift illustrated by Rosalie’s suffering.

The importance of the sacred feminine in Church lore cannot be easily dismissed.

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However, this scene is part of a series of images that begins in the dungeon with the chained and collared Justine grabbing vainly for Rodin in a fit of vengeance. She is defiant and frustrated, the angry feminine, or in modern terms, feminist.

12342441_10153165674282882_7911671529364754032_nThen we see the Trinity motif just mentioned.

At first the girls are looking away from each other, individualized in their agony, emphasizing the misery and abandonment that is part of the human condition.

But they eventually join hands in spirit as well as in truth, an affirmation that the sacred feminine will prevail.

Imagistically, they form their own wheel with their overlapping hands on Justine’s hip as the hub.

Leonardo’s Perfection

300px-da_vinci_vitruve_luc_viatourIt’s worth mentioning that Jac Avila’s woman on the wheel is a vague reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” perhaps suggested by the filmmaker more unconsciously than deliberately.

Simply put, each girl represents the Renaissance thinker’s harmonic blend of art and science that ultimately spawned the Age of Enlightenment and, ironically, the Marquis de Sade.

In this film the female image emerges perfect in form while tormented with pain, as Justine reminds us with her harsh condemnation of Biblical tenets.

We can conclude then that Justine is a full-fledged challenge to the Church and its intrusion into the pre-theological State of Nature that Sade celebrates. Jac Avila has given us pause to reconsider Sade’s argument.

We have a broader question, of course, that is too much to consider here. Is the perfect female form and its corresponding consciousness a creation of Nature or God? Or both?

Cutting Across Time

The confrontation between female suffering and empowerment, the heart of this story, cuts across time.

Here are some of the examples.

In I Only See Darkness: Part Two of this review, we see twenty-first century vehicle tires abandoned on the side of the road, a comment on Justine’s situation.

Then there is Rodin’s modern bottle of beer in the dungeon scene, though bottled beer was known in Sade’s day. As the film comes to its denouement, Rodin wears sunglasses not available in the eighteenth century. Combine those images with a wife-beater shirt and the macho persona of the alpha male (God?) steps into view.

12265552_522310101276893_6619100802816208411_oAlso, we have the brass bed (a Victorian invention) that post-dates Sade. But it is appropriate here because the Victorians muted female sexuality, giving rise to Freudian theory on hysteria, repression, and sexual anxiety.

The costumes are eclectic. In the dungeon scenes, for instance, Rodin sports the aforementioned wife-beater shirt, a Hollywood staple reaching back to the 1930s.

Incidentally, Amy Hesketh cobbled the wardrobe together for the film . . . not a simple task.

Now we know why Jac Avila breaks the fourth wall repeatedly. His message transcends the here and now and goes well beyond the story at hand. What better way to reinforce the narrative’s timelessness than addressing the viewer directly, cutting through the limitations configured by the camera’s lens.

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So, that’s a quick run-down of some of the symbolism incorporated into the Justine narrative.

We’re set now to venture into our last installment for the dramatic conclusion Jac Avila has crafted for this version of the Sadean saga. He deviates from Sade somewhat but retains the flavor of the novel to its bitter end.

A reminder. If you don’t want to know how everything turns out, skip the next post!

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12313702_10207283807987314_7432081521215658282_nFor the curious, Amy often crafts the torture instruments including racks, whips, and the like that appear in all Pachamama/Decadent Films.

Getting a feel for the whips is something BDSMers would understand.

By the way, in making Justine, testing the wheel was vitally important, as you might expect.

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Amy Hesketh can be reached on Facebook and followed on twitter. Jac Avila is also on twitter.

 

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

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

Now that we’ve discussed Justine, the novel, and looked at what Jac Avila has borrowed for his version of the story, we’re ready to analyze the film.

SPOILER ALERT! The ending of Justine is included in this five-part review.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema. Performer names are inserted where appropriate.

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In a nod to the Marquis de Sade, Jac Avila’s cinematic version of Justine tells the story in flashback mode and sticks closely to the novel early on.

justineposterv04oficial-510x775However, the opening scene departs from Sade and establishes that this film will forge its own path in ways that reveal Justine dabbling in the libertine philosophy she supposedly abhors.

This is not to say Justine abandons her virtue, but the bottom line in this film is about defiance and empowerment that, contradictory to Sade, requires a woman of strength who endures her fate.

Jac Avila puts the abused lass on that trajectory.

 

Public Humiliation

Justine (Amy Hesketh)  is brought into the town square for a public scourging. It’s announced she’s charged with prostitution and theft and will spend a night in the pillory before being sent off to a “hard labor” fate.

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Prostitution? Sade mentions nothing of that. What’s more, there is no public humiliation at the whipping post in his novel.

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The officer in charge (Gonzolo Konka) isn’t finished because the crimes of murder and arson are also part of the charges. Justine escaped from prison with the gang leader Dubois (Gina Alcon) during a fire which our heroine supposedly set.

Twenty-one people died and later Justine is blamed for a second murder, that of Madame de Bressac.

So the unfortunate girl is doomed.

The flogging begins, the crowd counts the strokes, and Amy Hesketh initiates this provocative film in a fashion only she can orchestrate. It’s a superb scene and another cinematic triumph for an actress/director whose performance art we’ve come to take for granted.

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Notice the crucifixion position of Justine as a criminal. That’s important because this film has a religious undercurrent that challenges the Church.

By the way, after receiving the thirty-ninth lash, Justine faints and has to be revived. Keep in mind the number thirty-nine, it is significant in understanding the film and will be mentioned later.

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The Medieval Church

That leads us to the prostitution charge. Why is it there?

It’s not part of Sade’s story, but its inclusion here makes sense if we remember that Sade is an atheist and condemns the Catholic Church as the charlatan of illusionary constructs. (See Justine, Part One: The Novel).

On the other hand, Jac Avila’s cinematic version of Justine does not abandon Christian ideology, choosing instead to confront it particularly over the Church’s attitude toward women.

Is the virtuous Justine turned into a modern version of Mary Magdalene, the supposed woman of the evening, to argue this point?

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If so, the flogging scene with the priest standing by tells us two things that set the tone for the film.

First,  doubts are cast on how we see Church doctrine when it comes to the female cause. After all, there is no real Biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene was an adulteress or profited from sex, though the patriarchal Medieval Church hinted otherwise.

Nevertheless, women were regarded as second class citizens, the Virgin Mary aside. She avoids what churchmen abhorred in the Early Middle Ages, the sensual woman. After all, she never really had sex.

Jac Avila challenges this minimalist view of the women in two other characters in the narrative, Rosalie (Mila Joya) and Omphale (Beatriz Rivera), who are present at Justine’s punishment.

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Rosalie, Omphale, and Justine share the common bond of torture and pain, a point that becomes more important when the film delves into Rodin and his amusement with the fairer sex.

In fact, the girls are nervously watching a punishment that is already familiar to them.

That leads us to the film’s second theme: the empowered woman. Jac Avila’s Justine is hardly Sade’s innocent, hapless soul imploring Heaven’s Grace to save her.

She has her own will that leads to self-created problems . . . and she pays in the end.

But more on this feminist view later.

You Can Only Die Once

After her bloody punishment, Justine is taken to the pillory and secured to await the dawn.

The spectators are informed that by daybreak Justine’s execution will be settled upon since she has “but one life to live.” So much for the years of hard labor in the original sentence.

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Juliette (Cortney Wills), a witness to the whipping, walks over and touches Justine’s cheek, asking how “you, with a very sweet face, find yourself in such a dreadful plight.”

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A tearful Justine replies that were she to tell her story, she “would accuse the Hand of Heaven and I dare not.”

The dictates of her unwavering faith are understandable, though a bit over-the-top. But there’s more. Justine’s troubles are of her own making. Even for those who conceive of God as the great clock maker (popular with the Deists in Sade’s time), the miserable wretch has to bear some responsibility for her actions.

Sade would not disagree, but Jac Avila’s alternative look at an empowered Justine flies in the face of the French aristocrat.

Remember, empowerment means making choices.

Pounds of Flesh

The executioner (Eric Calancha) puts aside his whip and sodomizes his helpless victim.

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Rodin (Jac Avila as actor) approaches Juliette and introduces himself. She responds with “Madame de Lorsange.”

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By this time, the executioner has finished with his pound of flesh, so Rodin politely excuses himself to duck behind the stocks for his own Sadean go at Justine. Juliette looks on with patience, thoroughly amused.

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In the face of all plausibility, Justine calmly begins as Rodin pumps away. Apparently anal violation at the hands of a pedophile sparks casual conversation. It’s a parody of Sade, of course, whose own narrative of Justine’s travails is so outré as to garner chuckles. But does Jac Avila also parody the Church in a way Sade ignores?

If that’s not enough grist for the mill, consider the film’s flashback narrators.  Justine, and later Juliette, break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera, engaging the audience directly with a more pointed method than a simple literary first person.

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What’s going on here?

A lot, actually, and it sets up a very entertaining and highly recommended film.

In the next post we’ll find out the details of Dubois, Saint-Florent, and Bressac.

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One of the endearing aspects of indie film is the cooperation that is built into everyone connected with the project. When money and time are limited, the cast accepts responsibilities to assist the director of cinematography.

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