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