Tag Archives: Jac Avila

Amy Hesketh, Part One: A Jungian Dream

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Over the last year I’ve developed an interest in the films of Amy Hesketh, an independent producer, director, and actor, whose work is gaining notice.

Until recently, finding an opportunity to talk with this artistically innovative thirty-something was elusive. Not only is Amy making movies, she is also pursuing her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) and teaching as an adjunct professor of film.

Needless to say, I’m grateful for the time she extended to me.

This is the first of two posts about our conversation.

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Power Plays

Before we get into her film, Barbazul, I ask Amy how she selects the topics for her productions.

With a chuckle, she tells me it’s whatever she finds interesting.

sirwinakuy0012-300x389Sirwinakuy, the first film I directed, was a story I started writing about fourteen years ago. I was living in Paris at the time and kind of pieced it together from a bunch of different people and relationships I observed.”

The film centers on a young woman (Veronica Paintoux) who develops a dominant/submissive relationship with an older man (Jac Avila).

Amy imagines her stories “as a Jungian dream in the sense that I am all of the characters,” she explains, much like children who “play act and envision different kinds of scenarios.” In other words, role-playing teaches children about relationships.

Drama serves the same purpose.

She is “intrigued” by certain types of human interaction, especially “power play relationships, dispossession versus repossession, things like that,” Amy says.

These scenarios are the underpinnings of her film adaptations of literature and her original screenplays.

Of course, power play interactions are the traditional erotic foundation BDSM relationships and I suggest that because her films have a BDSM component, they can be defined as erotic horror. Amy is not so sure.

“A lot of people tend to emphasize the erotic element in my films but they are not about that,” she insists. “They’re a visual metaphor for power play and vulnerability because I feel like erotic horror is privileging the erotic over anything else.”

To support her assertion, Amy notes that Sirwinakuy can be interpreted different ways. It may be seen as “a romantic comedy or a drama” and also as “psychological horror.”

Terrifying and Sexy

I bring up Ollala and Barbazul.

“They are both about power play relationships, the pain of individuality in the face of society” though each film explores the theme “in different ways,” she mentions.

barbazulposter2-300x389That takes us to Barbazul which Amy adapted from the French fairy tale, “Bluebeard.”

There’s a certain shift in perspective in the film that I wanted play around with,” Amy begins. “I wanted it to be a mirror for the audience to project their emotions onto Barbazul (Bluebeard) and think, ‘This guy’s a psychopath,” while simultaneously empathizing with him.

“I want people [to] take stock of how they actually react to situations of rejection [and] the idea of putting one’s own needs before that of the relationship,” Amy explains.

She recalls reading Charles Perrault’s story as a child.

“It was terribly exciting and terrifying and sexy so I wanted that to come out in the film as well.”

The Extra Dress

Looking further into Barbazul, I’m wondering why Amy kills off Soledad (played by Mila Joya), who was destined to become Bluebeard’s next wife.

“She needed to die,” Amy says, and that happens at “the hands of the sister, assisted by Barbazul.”

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The story examines the rivalry that can emerge between women, in this case, “mother and daughter when the daughter reaches maturity. They become rivals in a sense that puts a strain on the relationship.” Amy explains.

In the Barbazul adaptation, Soledad helps to raise her sister, in effect taking the place of their mother. Conflicts develop and the psychological aspect of the story steps forward. Soledad’s sister pushes Soledad aside and wins the affections of Bluebeard.

Amy elaborates.

barbazul00100316“The sister takes Soledad into herself by replacing her. She sees Soledad as someone who will never actually become something. Her [Soledad’s] concerns are not for the self, they’re for making decisions based on the expectations and obligations of society that are more than what she wants. Who knows what she wants in life.”

In Perrault’s original narrative, Bluebeard accumulates the carcasses of his dead wives in a secret, locked room. Bodies didn’t work for Amy’s cinematic tastes. Instead she settled on the symbolic representation of dresses hung on a rack in Barbazul’s plantation office.

“I’m terribly logic based so I figured a room of bloody corpses would be absolutely disgusting, smelly, and I felt like Walter [Barbazul’s fastidious butler] would have a problem with it.”

Also, there is Barbzul himself, who is a very precise guy.

Amy continues. “I felt like he would have a representation of [his murdered wives] because Barbazul was someone who took care of things. When he put them [the bodies] in the ground he was burying [his] frustration.”

Amy mentions that her modern interpretation of the story focuses on the psychological, something Perrault intuitively understood in an age that predated the social sciences.

“Yes, he would keep a trophy like many psychopaths do. Barbazul is someone who wants to suppress that frustration and rejection and move on with a clean slate every time with a new woman.”

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I comment that in the office there is an extra dress, guessing it is the one that is set aside for Soledad.

Amy liked that explanation, but the truth is much more revealing.

“The real story is there was another actress” slated to play one of the Barbazul’s women, she says.

Unfortunately the performer had “diva” problems.

“She was quite abusive. She threw a tirade at me. I tried a couple of times to talk to her about it, calmly.” Amy remembers, but things didn’t work out.  The frustrated director had no alternative but to write the girl out of the film.

The Erotic Writer

So, one actress was dropped while another role, that of Jane, one of Barbazul’s victims, remained vacant.

Amy decided to put herself in front of the camera this time because she didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone to take on Jane’s part.

Here’s the story accentuated with an amusing prelim.

“She [Jane] is supposed to be this sexually aggressive character. I wanted to have [her] smoke.”

Amy aesthetically appreciates the iconoclastic French new wave films of decades ago and the “clouds of smoke” that permeate them. From her filmmaker’s perspective smoking comes across as “pretty and sexy” when the lighting sets the tone of the scene. It fit Jane’s mood perfectly.

“I’m giving signifiers to her subtext because she writes erotic literature.”

That makes sense, but Amy had a problem.

“I don’t smoke so it was awful,” she laughs. “It made me sick but it looks really cool on film.”

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Understandable, but what persuaded Amy to be her own last-minute recruit wasn’t the cigarettes, or more precisely, cigarillos.

“I never actually intended to play that character. I didn’t want to.” Her intention was only to direct the film, but the best laid plans can get gummed up.

There was a problem. The script required Jane’s corpse to be buried.

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“I realized it would be very difficult to ask someone to be out in the cold, naked, rolled up into plastic like a burrito. I don’t feel confident asking someone to do that. I did kind of shop around a little bit but none of the actresses I knew were willing to do it.”

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That’s understandable, so director became actress.

“When I was rolled up in plastic, I couldn’t actually breathe. I realized that it was a really a good idea not to ask someone to do this because I would be sued.”

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Her efforts paid off and Barbazul became a notable and beautifully shot film.

Next we’ll ask Amy about the nudity and the use of color in her productions.

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For the Barbazul trailer from Vermeerworks, the distributor of the film, click here.

For the YouTube trailer, click here.

 

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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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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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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