Tag Archives: Pachamama/Decadent Films

A Commentary on Monxa Mala: Part Two

by Rich Moreland, July 2019

In this installment of Monxa Mala, we’ll offer our analysis of the story. We’re getting literary here so to fully appreciate the visual impact of this drama, purchase the film from Vermeerworks.

Photos are courtesy of Pachamama/Decadent Films and Jac Avila.

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Survival

Each woman in Maleficarum II: Monxa Mala is adept at self-preservation. Martina and Justa do it through silence. Barbara and Lucrecia use their sexuality. Both women identify with their abuser and become Enforcers to avoid the painful end of the whip.

Julia wants to please and coincidentally relishes her punishments meted out by the Father. Essentially, she’s a cultist who symbolizes the faithful sheep (worshipers) who never question. However, her allegiance also has a darker side. Julia is symbolic of both parties in the age-old struggle between the Church and the forces of Satan because she’s willing to dance with the Father, however he is disguised.

Leticia is an independent spirit and the Father is determined to crush her individuality, vowing to “expel those demons that mortify you.” Shackled and awaiting her chastisement, Leticia endures his sanctimonious judgment of her “transgressions” . . . reckless, conceited, proud, arrogant, defiant, unruly . . . just for a start.

As Leticia grimaces under the lash wielded by Lucrecia, the Father calmly tells her, “You are Eve. God’s sentence hangs over all your sex.”

It’s an age-old, time-worn accusation. If left to their own designs, women will disgrace and dishonor the Church. Their curse is the sexual urges they arouse in men, an intolerable situation that calls for action. The best way to stamp out carnal desire, according to the Father’s logic, is to act on it first and then delight in its destruction. In other words, discipline the messenger before disposing of her in a righteous way.

“The cross is a noble punishment,” the Father declares.

The Father sees women as pawns. As God’s representative, he is unsullied, giving him free rein to debase the novices for his personal gratification before justifiably torturing them. We see that with Barbara’s “problem.” It’s taken care of on the rack after she whispers that she might be carrying something of his.

Alive

Leticia’s single-mindedness and her strength are brought to light in the bedchamber where ointment is applied after her scourging. She says with grit, “I will leave this place . . . maybe broken up into pieces, but I’ll leave from here alive.”

Leticia’s pronouncement reverberates through the film as each novice/nun seeks a way to ameliorate her own situation.

The challenge for the viewer is to interpret what “leave alive” means. Is Jac Avila telling us that faith conquers death? Internal strength survives the pain of torture? Church oppression is never final?

Or, is Leticia offering us an undeniable feminist statement, thus transforming Monxa Mala into a feminist film? In other words, is paganism pro-woman because it flies in the face of Church patriarchy?

After all, some nuns get what they want, don’t they. . . ? Which brings us to the malleable Julia.

A Tidy Little Masochist

Julia is central to the film if one considers it to be a sadomasochistic horror tale with enough whipped backs and boobs to fascinate dedicated BDSMers. The novice is itching for her punishments and can mete out a bit of sadistic pleasure herself.

She uses the Father, seducing him in ways she knows will work. Julia confesses she is “a great sinner” who has “sinful thoughts about your Grace.” She fawns at his feet and extracts a kiss from him. The perfect toady. Important because another novice, the whipped Barbara, ends up on the wheel . . .

. . . and Lucrecia will endure the collar, then the rack.

By the way, when he kisses Julia, the Father pulls down her garment to bare her breasts, triggering her sexual excitement.

Julia’s conflation of pain and sex is well noted in the film. When Leticia’s bloody marks are being treated, Julia says, “Did it hurt very much?” Leticia replies, “You would have loved it.”

Later as Julia is being lashed by Barbara’s hand, Leticia walks in and watches with a half-smile. Julia closes her eyes in ecstasy and hardly flinches.

“Your dream becomes reality,” Leticia says with a degree of sarcasm.

“I’m doing my penance with humility,” Julia says softly, “but I don’t feel the pain.” She smiles with smug superiority.

Who is being manipulated here?

Julia is the masochistic delight of Monxa Mala so don’t miss her whipping scene on the ladder. She is arrogant in her own way when she says to the Father that it’s her turn “with the flagellum.” “My wish is to be whipped by your grace,” she declares, so there are no shackles or restraints. This is Julia’s fun and she gets another kiss for her submission.

The scene is back side/front side and a naked Stephanie Vargas is eye candy. We hope to see her in future films.

Beyond the Red Feline series, rarely has the Pachamama/Decadent library captured a better pure masochist on film.

By the way, Julia is a switch of sorts. Using the needle probe, she increases Leticia’s agony when she gets the chance. Just goes to show you that pain lovers can be feisty if the opportunity rises. The needle has a deeper meaning, however. Julia’s fascination with it is a thinly veiled comment on her own raging need for penetration of another sort.

Oh yes, there is something else this moment reveals. Competition and revenge festers among the women. During Julia’s earlier whipping, Leticia pokes her in the ribs with a nail used in crucifixion. Turnabout is fair play, is it not?

Various Sides of a Woman

Writer/director Jac Avila leaves the viewer to decide what the Father means when he references the “big lie” that is making its way around the monastery.

No matter how such a lie is interpreted, remember that each novice/nun in Monxa Mala represents a side of the human condition that is tested by it. Leticia is the rebel who is unrepentant while Julia is the cultist who refuses to question. Barbara is sexual lust and power personified, the opposite of Lucrecia whose pragmatism guides her actions.

Martina and Justa represent the old adage, “the less said, the better.” In Martina’s case, she solves problems. We see that when talk with the Father turns to performing abortions to rid the monastery of its recurring unspoken “problem.”  Lucrecia volunteered for one, Martina informs us.

It’s the big coverup that gets out of control. Except for Leticia who remains defiant and pays with a crown of thorns, the women have sold their souls to the Devil in a bargain driven by necessity. They have forfeited their choices.

Throughout the film, the tension between the Father and Leticia becomes a psychological tug-of-war. He threatens, she resists. As the story moves into its later stages, Leticia becomes the omnipotent power of freedom that sees everything for what it is.

In the final scenes, only the Enforcers, Lucrecia and Barbara, remain on-screen. They are crucified and the Father penetrates them once again, this time symbolically with the needle probe.

Finally the stage is empty of its victims. The Father sits calmly, pleased with his cleansing of the holy order.  The Church is left naked and alone to wallow in its self-righteousness, or so it seems because there is more to this ending.

Some Final Comments

Unlike previous Jac Avila films, there is not much total nudity in Monxa Mala. For some viewers, this will be disappointing.

Only Barbara and Julia get down to complete exposure. The others rely on loin cloths when the action gets rough. From my experience writing in the film industry, directors rarely push actresses to nudity if they are not amenable to that. Respecting boundaries is paramount.

If you are a fan of a girl bound and bare, watch the scenes with Barbara on the wheel . . .

. . . and Julia on the ladder. They are worth the price of the film.

By the way, Daniela Borda and Simonne de la Riva are stars in the making. Both are “hot,” to use a sexually charged term, and their acting is quite good. Daniela has an earthiness and Simonne an air of sophistication that offer contrasting interpretations of what BDSM sexuality is about. Here’s hoping for more of both soon.

Also, Graciela Tamayo and Inces Copa represent a counter-balance to the Father’s debauchery. They are guiding figures whose presence reminds to viewer of the goodness that the Church offers.

As for Mila Joya, this reviewer admits he has an enduring affection for her portrayal of tortured victims in Pachamama/Decadent Films. She has a rich and sensuous resume to her name.

Mila is superb with a quiet, gentle demeanor and a willingness to suffer for her art. Not only is this demure sweetheart talented, but she fills the screen with a body to die for.

Don’t take my word for Mila’s commanding presence on-screen. Check out two previous Jac Avila films that feature her solitary suffering in the chamber of pain. They are Le Marquis de la Croix (reviewed on this blog: April 29-May 5, 2017) and her newest offering, Mila a la Croix.

In conclusion, no commentary on a Pachamama/Decadent production is complete without a final mention of Amy Hesketh. As referenced in Part One, she’s not cast in this film but her presence is evident in the story. And, of course, the whipping scenes carry her stamp. Amy is the standard for the visual feast that is Monxa Mala and deserves a special nod from all of us.

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After rigorous filming and lots of “torture,” the cast enjoys a well-deserved party. Congratulations on a cool and entertaining production!

 

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A Commentary on Monxa Mala: Part One

by Rich Moreland

In this first installment on Monxa Mala, we’ll set the stage for the film.

Photos are courtesy of Pachamama/Decadent films. The Inquisition drawing is from gregfallis.com.

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This latest Jac Avila niche creation celebrates the visual delights that enrich his fan base.  Maleficarum II: Monxa Mala is a variance of the earlier Maleficarum, also a Pachamama/Decadent Cinema offering that tells the story of persecuted lovers who are condemned as witches. Both productions focus on the Inquisition tortures carried out in the name of the Church some five hundred plus years ago.

Amy Hesketh, who appears in the original movie, serves as the executive producer for this update. Amy is not on-screen this time around and her absence is regretfully noted. On the other hand, Amy’s long-time filming compadre, Mila Joya, returns for a role in which she is less a victim, at least on the surface, than a reluctant whip-wielding punisher. More on that later.

Jac Avila is the writer and director of Monxa Mala, scoring another winner for the BDSM horror genre that is his specialty. With enough deviltry to make the story believable, he once again assumes the role of the torturer. What is particular about this film is that Jac is really “a director within a director.” His on-screen persona is commanding the nuns to satisfy his will just as off-camera he is moving the players around on the stage, so to speak.

Speaking of the nuns and novices, Monxa Mala introduces a talented group of female performers whose comeliness is a perfect fit for the dark evils of the dungeon. Their punishments will surely please BDSM aficionados.

Make no mistake, however, there’s more than just “tie ‘em an’ beat ‘em” to this movie. It has psychological implications that reach beyond sadomasochistic themes.

Let’s take an in-depth look at all of this beginning with the characters that occupy the story.

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The Players

Leticia (Simonne de la Riva): The Marquise’s daughter. She organizes a pagan feast that breaks “the sacred silence of the monastery” and is punished for her transgression.

Lucrecia (Mila Joya): The Enforcer. She is loyal to the Father. When he orders a scourging to “correct” a deviant novice, Lucrecia steps in to do his bidding.

Father Agustinus (Jac Avila): The “Mad Monk.” He sets it upon himself to “correct” novices to the holy order when they step out of line. The Father runs the underground dungeon show and loves the art of inflicting pain.

Barbara (Daniela Borda): The sexually-charged novice. She carries a prize the Father bequeathed to her, or rather inside her. Barbara desires to be the Enforcer and accommodates the Father for her own gain.

Julia (Stephanie Vargas): The masochist. Eager for the pain is this novice’s forte. Julia suffers the welts of humiliation with a smile while having a nasty sadistic streak of her own. When it comes to “getting off” on pain—be it receiving or giving—her favorite phrase is, “It’s my turn now.”

Martina (Graciela Tamayo): The quiet observer. Martina intercedes for the tortured souls under the Father’s wrath. But, as they say in politics and crime, she knows where the bodies are buried. “The walls are guarding secrets,” she says.

Justa (Inces Copa): The wrong nun in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because she is loyal to Leticia, she is more of a nuisance than the Father can endure.

The Images

Four images of importance dominate the film. First is the whipping post where the crucifixions are also carried out. It’s a Freudian phallic symbol and central to the male dominance of the dungeon. Leticia’s suffering while manacled to it is the main focus of the film. Later, Lucrecia also spends time there when her usefulness to the Father is finished.

Second is the metal collar. Attached to the post, it immobilizes its victim, holding her in place for her punishment. The circular shape is a Freudian symbol for female genitalia, as is the wheel, of course, and a reminder that the Father controls the most intimate of female parts for his pleasure. When Leticia and Lucrecia endure their tribulations, the collar enforces their submission.

The third is the rack. Its has a depraved attraction for the Father who “treats” the condemned to its misery.

The last major image is the flaming kettle where the branding iron awaits the Father’s bidding. Leticia is its victim. Simply put, the kettle and its hot coals are the fires of Hell awaiting her, at least in the Father’s eyes.

The Back Story

By the Early Middle Ages, the Church’s patriarchal, anti-woman attitude dominated Europe. Though fighting heresy was their major thrust, churchmen had a history of torturing misguided nonbelievers condemned for dancing with the Devil. The abused victims were often the weaker sex vulnerable to Beelzebub’s seduction.

For some holy men, the Church’s tribunal, known as the Inquisition, turned a blind eye to its own sexual licentiousness and sadism that victimized many women. Such was the case with another Lucrecia, a 16th century Spanish girl whose dreams and imaginations were too much for the king. She was charged with heresy, imprisoned and tortured.

Another female was the virgin martyr Saint Leticia whose Spanish cult is celebrated through feasting. According to legend, Leticia was executed along with the virgin followers of St. Ursula in the Early Middle Ages. No surprise then that Leticia in this film is accused of promoting a pagan repast.

It’s worth mentioning that Inquisition tortures were often carried out by the civil authorities who were not subject to the control of the Church. Their barbarity comes from the Roman word for the savage, the non-citizen: the barbarian.

Notice that the novice in Monxa Mala who has not yet taken her vows remains outside of the holy order. Her name is Barbara and she wants to be an Enforcer.

In this film, the Father is a metaphor for the church and uses his dungeon devices to satisfy his personal sexual and sadistic urges. As for the women of Maleficarum II: Monxa Mala, there’s more than accusations of impiety at work here. They are victims of medieval sex trafficking by western civilization’s most stellar institution.

Of course, Maleficarum is a reference to witches and we’re left with the question of a cover-up. Who is the Devil in this story and are the nuns worshiping him?

A Note on the Production

The set for Monxa Mala is a modified version of the underground chamber that appears in other Jac Avila films. Because of its limited size, the stage gets crowded at times.

However, the cinematography is excellent and the camera is adept at placing everyone in the right position for each scene so that none of the visual impact of the story is lost.

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In Part Two, we’ll examine Monxa Mala as a sadomasochistic horror tale.

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Eros: Part Three

by Rich Moreland, March 2018

This final post on Eros is for posterity. It is intended to give readers a heads up on an emerging female talent in filmmaking.

At this time, the direction Davyana San Miguel will take professionally is evolving. If she makes a name for herself in long run, this post will lend a meaningful back story to her career.

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Reframing the Lens

When writing about Davyana, the first thing that comes to mind is her ability to capture the female gaze. Typically, we use “gaze” descriptors, especially the male version, in referencing the pornographic image. However, the concept carries over to the erotic if performance art depicting female nudity and its corresponding sexuality is our focus.

From my standpoint, the female filmmaker who fits neatly into the erotic artistic paradigm is Amy Hesketh of Pachamama/Decadent Cinema. Her work examines women who move beyond the sexual for its own sake. Amy’s preferred vehicle is the the horror/torture setting framed with psychological overlays.

On this blog, I’ve reviewed Amy’s films with that point of view in mind, an especially challenging endeavor considering she is usually behind and in front of the camera simultaneously.

What is delightful about Amy is her willingness (eagerness?) to appear on-screen as the distressed female victim. Needless to say, her performances are powerful.

Interestingly, Amy sometimes constructs the film sets and the instruments of torture her characters (especially those she plays) endure on film. Often writing her own scripts which she also directs and produces, Amy is the complete package.

Labels notwithstanding, the now college professor is clearly a feminist filmmaker. Amy’s female protagonists assert themselves despite their dire circumstances.

Though her work doesn’t deal with horror or sadomasochistic themes, Davyana is in the beginning stages of a career much like Amy’s: cinematographer, director, actor.

“As a director, I do consider myself a feminist,” Davyana says, and by its very nature that statement takes on a political interpretation akin to Amy Hesketh.

The student filmmaker adds,

“Recently, I’ve learned that 4% of Hollywood’s cinematographers are women, that means that 96% of the visuals we consume are inherently from a male gaze. Through my work, I hope to reframe the traditional lens and present things from my unique feminine perspective.”

Eros is the beginning of that journey.

Learning from the Bottom Up

As do all cinematographers, Davyana is learning her craft from the bottom up.

Here are some examples she mentions. They are from two separate productions.

“One was an independent short film called Mer, based in Brooklyn, New York. I was the second Camera Assistant on that shoot when I lived in New York for the summer of 2015,” she says.

“The second set is a senior thesis film from SFSU. I was the First Assistant Director on that one.”

Breezy and Cool

When I take a closer look at Davyana, I am persuaded that her on-camera appearances are notable, even if they are casual in nature.

What piqued my interest was a photo of her on a rooftop. It has a playfully erotic appeal, replacing the male gaze with a female alternative, though I’m not sure that was its intent.

Davyana relates that the pic “was a BTS shot from Mer. I was adjusting the lights during a nighttime rooftop scene we filmed in Bushwick. For the same film we also shot at Coney Island for one of the locations.”

If you look closely, you’ll discover Davyana has a pixie quality about her that is breezy and cool.

Then there are other moments when Davyana steps in front of the camera and moves her image beyond the incidental.

“That vinyl record photo is one of my favorites photographed by my creative partner Mehran Karimabadi,” she says. “We were filming for our short film Du Bist Schon and had an impromptu photo shoot while we had the lights setup.”

The shot is happily inventive in its nature, I might add, because it frames Davyana San Miguel in a completely different light. She, like Amy Hesketh, is transformed into the center of the gaze while maintaining a subjective, rather than objective, quality.

In other words, she is the creator.

Knowing that Amy built a career on camera, I asked Davyana about modeling and acting.

“I have consider(ed) being in front of the camera more often,” she affirms, though she has some hesitancy.  “It’s a bit uncomfortable for me to step out of my comfort zone behind the camera.”

That discomfort is not from lack of experience it seems, but touches on Davyana’s ethnicity in today’s political/social climate that sadly minimizes, rather than celebrates, diversity.

She explains. “I rarely see anyone who looks like myself on-screen, which has subconsciously dictated how I view myself within society.

“I hope that by inserting myself in front of the camera more, others [will] feel accepted and recognized visually.”

If anything, that may be Davyana’s most significant contribution to film at this point in her career.

All things considered, like Amy Hesketh, Davyana San Miguel takes her image and frames it artistically and politically. Where Amy is presently more psychological in her work, Davyana leans toward a broader message of multiculturalism and LGBT acceptance. That is not to say Amy ignores this, nor does it imply that Davyana is downplaying internal psychological forces in her self-created images. Each woman borrows from the other.

Spontaneous

Lastly, Amy is very fetish oriented, as we know. For Davyana, her fetish expression is somewhat spontaneous and less calculated. The native of Hawai’i comments on a photo I brought to her attention. I suggested it celebrates multiple fetishes.

“My mesh outfit was one that I wore to last year’s pride parade in San Francisco. I suppose that the overlay of fetishes was my intent,” she says.

But it seems the unconscious might have influenced her in a more innocent manner.

“I was simply expressing myself with things I had in my closet,” Davyana concludes.

Wow, what a closet!

So, here is perhaps the most deeply personal photo of them all, a product of mind and emotion that Amy Hesketh can appreciate.

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You can see samples of Davyana’s work on her website.

 

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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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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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