Tag Archives: The Marquis de Sade

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

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jac Avila puts the abused lass on that trajectory.

 

Public Humiliation

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

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

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

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

So the unfortunate girl is doomed.

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

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

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

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The Medieval Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But more on this feminist view later.

You Can Only Die Once

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, empowerment means making choices.

Pounds of Flesh

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s going on here?

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

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

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

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Justine, Part Two: Novel to Film

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

Jess Franco's Justine 1969

Jess Franco’s Justine, 1969

Justine as film is not new. The earliest version dates to 1969, two productions were released in the 1970s, and another followed in 1987.

To understand Jac Avila’s adaptation, a snapshot of Sade’s original work he borrows is helpful.

All quotes come from the Oxford University 2012 publication of Justine or the Misfortunes of Virtue.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema.

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Film adaptations of novels can be daunting.

As a result, filmmakers must sort through characters and scenes to personalize their version of a story.

Justine is no exception, so here are the major characters Jac Avila selected out of the many in Sade’s work. I’ve summarized them as they appear in novel.

Juliette, the Sister

Sade introduces Juliette by her married name, “Madame the Comtesse of Lorsange,” and tells us she owes “her fortune to a pretty face and a great deal of misconduct.” When she and Justine leave the convent as young girls, Juliette reminds her sister that their “youth and looks” will make it “impossible for them to die of hunger.”

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With morals that “are completely corrupted,” Sade writes, the older Juliette learns the ways of the flesh as a brothel “working girl.” At twenty she marries an older man, the Comte de Lorsange, whom she eventually murders for his wealth. Thus, Juliette’s life as a libertine and party girl begins.

Incidentally, never deterred by moral restraint, Juliette later offs “one of her admirers” to gain a “legacy” that enriches her further.

But she isn’t finished.

Throw in “three or four infanticides (abortions) to these horrors,” Sade says, and the dissolute Juliette becomes the poster girl for “prosperity can reward the very worst conduct.”

Immediately within the pages of Sade’s work, Juliette and her current sugar daddy, Monsieur de Corville, encounter a poor girl brought in chains to the inn where they are lodging. The wretch is accused of “three crimes, murder, theft, and arson” and is destined for execution in Lyons.

The aristocrats take pity and the prisoner offers to tell her tale. Thus, the devout Justine, who calls herself “Therese” to conceal her identity, begins the narrative that becomes the novel.

Bressac, the Gay Comte

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Having escaped a gang of criminals who beat and anally rape her, Justine comes upon two men in the woods “drunk with lust.”

“The young master (the Comte de Bressac) was always the woman,” Justine observes. She later says he “possessed a considerable degree of wickedness.”

When the count and his valet, Jasmin, realize Justine is watching them, they tie ja7her nude and spread-eagled to four trees to frighten her.

But the count has plans to use her as a companion for his aunt. Justine stays in Madame de Bressac’s house for four years, but her doubts about the Comte never go away.

“An evil spirit lay concealed beneath (his) feminine charms” that fostered a “hatred for his aunt,” Justine says.

Not unexpectedly, she refuses to participate in a plot to poison the woman.

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As punishment for her insolence, an enraged Bressac, with the help of Jasmin, takes Justine into the forest where she is tied naked to a tree. Admiring her “lovely bottom” and its “superb flesh,” the count predicts the stupid girl “will be an excellent lunch for my three hounds!”

The dogs are released.

“The cruel man walked away . . . I never saw him again,” Justine says.

Bloodied but alive, the abused girl finds her way to Saint-Marcel and a surgeon to treat her wounds. He is Rodin.

In the meantime, Justine discovers that Bressac does indeed carry out his deadly machination and she, the chambermaid, is accused of murder.

The Scientist and his Daughter

Rodin is a doctor “purely out of interest.” His passion is his boarding school. Students of both sexes provide the flesh he sadistically whips and debauches. Living with Rodin is his youthful daughter, Rosalie, who becomes Justine’s friend.

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Rodin offers Justine a place in his home though she is suspicious because two pretty servant girls are already there.

“Why does he need a third woman,” Justine asks herself, “and why does he want pretty ones?”

From a crack in the panel boards in her bedchamber, Rosalie reveals to Justine her father’s Friday punishments. As they watch the spectacle, Rosalie confesses she is treated likewise and suffers incest.

Concealed again later, Justine watches the same whipping and carnality this time with the two servants and Rosalie, who is sodomized by her father.

Sade tells us, “Drunk with passion, the libertine dares to taste the sweetest pleasures that incest and infamy have to offer.”

Confiding in Justine, Rosalie says she is now fifteen and ripe for sacrifice in the name of science. Her father and a colleague are going to use her for experiments; her destiny is determined and nothing will save her.

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When the fellow doctor questions Rodin about his indifference toward his daughter, the depraved scientist replies, “I, in love with a girl?” Referring to Rosalie as “that little bitch,” he adds, “it’s time she paid for putting an end to my intoxication with her life.”

Rosalie disappears for days before Justine discovers her tied to the posters of a bed. Furious, Rodin grabs Justine and brands her with a mark that “will get her hanged,” he declares.

Helpless, Justine is left at the edge of the forest. Faced with her own pain and troubles, Justine abandons Rosalie to her fate.

Omphale and the Monastery

After fleeing Rodin, Justine comes upon a hidden monastery deep within the woods where depraved monks imprison young women for pleasure, torture, and sex. In this society of vice, the monks are “quite sure their crimes will never be revealed.”

Justine’s string of bad luck predictably continues and she is put into the ranks of the abused.

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All sorts of horrors befall her but she does find a friend, Omphale, who, like Virgil guiding Dante through the Nine Circles of Hell, shows Justine everything, including exaggerated and whimsical punishments that would quickly kill any human being.

But this novel is pure fantasy, so the girls survive and their bodily marks simply disappear leaving them fresh for another round of torture, flogging, and sex.

The only way out of this hellish existence is to be among the mysterious “discharges,” Justine learns, the girls who are dismissed and sent away. Despite their promises to help those still imprisoned, these unfortunates are never  heard from again.

This fate befalls Omphale.

Later when Justine manages to escape in total darkness, an improbable turn in the tale, she traverses the six walls that conceal the monastery. Along the way, she finds a skull in the dirt and believes she’s come upon “the cemetery where these torturers throw the bodies of their victims . . . This skull was perhaps that of my dear Omphale,” she laments.

Though she is free, Justine never returns to rescue the tormented girls she leaves behind.

Others

ja14There are other characters Jac Avila places in his film: Dubois, the female gang member who helps Justine escape from prison and the traveler Saint-Florent, whom Justine rescues from the gang.

After treating her with care, Saint-Florent takes Justine into the forest as darkness closes in and knocks her unconscious with his walking stick.

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When Justine regains her senses, she finds herself “bruised, bloodied . . . and dishonoured,” her virginity gone.

It is at this point she comes upon Bresssac and his man, Jasmin.

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Chris Boger's Justine, 1977

Chris Boger’s Justine, 1977

We are now ready to examine Jac Avila’s treatment of the story. He keeps Sade’s narrative in tact at the beginning before exploring his own take on Justine’s character.

That, after all, is the nature of an adaptation.

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Justine is available for purchase at Vermeerworks.com.

Jac Avila can be contacted at Pachamama Films or via his blog.

 

 

 

 

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Justine, Part One: The Novel

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

Jac Avila’s adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s novel, Justine, is now available from Pacahamama/Decadent Films. Before taking a critical look at the movie, it’s helpful to have an understanding Sade’s work.

All references to the original story, Justine or the Misfortunes of Virtue, posted here come from the Oxford University Press paperback edition published in 2012. The translator is John Phillips.

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ja200Born in 1740, the Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat during the Age of Enlightenment. His proclivity for debauching young girls and his fascination with sodomy (anal sex) landed him in prison on more than one occasion.

During his time in the Bastille, the prolific author and playwright penned Justine. Published in 1791 after the French Revolution, the novel is an early example of pornography, eighteenth century style.

Sade’s story is a satirical work. ja201The marquis rails against the Church and society and marvels at the libertine (free thinking) way of life.

He uses Justine, a pathetic girl who tries to preserve her virtue in the face of overwhelming vice, as the punching bag to justify his philosophy.

The Story in Brief

At age twelve Justine and her older sister Juliette fall upon hard times. Though born of nobility, they are orphaned and penniless and forced to go their separate ways after leaving the protection of a convent. Fifteen years later, they meet again when Juliette is thirty and Justine well into her twenties.

sade_etching_1Juliette lives a pleasurable life of vice, Justine a miserable one of virtue. Despite her desperate pleas to Heaven to protect her, Justine suffers a series of tribulations that include graphically described tortures and repeated sodomy.

Her tormenters come from all corners of society: criminal gangs, aristocrats, and churchmen among them.

Imprisoned by disreputable characters who abuse her incessantly, Justine is accused of various crimes, branded a whore, and is in the hands of the authorities when Juliette, known now as Madame de Lorsange, rescues her.

The novel is a flashback in which Justine recounts her miseries. Virtue is rewarded only briefly, however, as the poor lass is struck dead by a lightning bolt.

Influences on the Novelist

The Marquis de Sade was undoubtedly familiar with the fairy tales of fellow Frenchmen Charles Perrault, particularly “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Bluebeard” and incorporated elements of both (as well as sordid legends from around the world), in his novel.

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Justine is often lost in the darkness of the woods, a terrifying experience and a reminder of Little Red Riding Hood’s dire straits.

Falling into the hands of one “bad wolf” after another, she ends up in foreboding environs typical of the Gothic writing of Sade’s day such as castles, forbidden rooms, and hidden monasteries where tortures occur.

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Because Justine is trusting and gullible, she is often abandoned after being abused setting her up to be easily duped by the next person who comes long.

As this abysmal cycle continues, Justine meets other young women who likewise suffer indignities and sometimes death as do Bluebeard’s wives.

sade_donatien_alphonse_francois_marquis_de_justine_ou_les_malheurs_de_d5840801gThe Libertine

Justine is as much a philosophical statement as a decadent novel about libertine sexuality and anti-Church diatribes.

Incidentally, during the Enlightenment period, “libertine” originally referred to those who considered themselves atheists. Over time, the label was expanded to include sexually obscene written works.

Sade explores this further when Justine morphs into the lengthier , The New Justine, published in 1797. It is more pornographic than its older cousin.

Sade’s Message

The Marquis’ original Justine carries two prominent themes.

marquisdesade2The first justifies its libertine leanings. Virtue is of little account. When Justine escapes prison with the help of Dubois and her gang, she is told, “abandon the path of virtue which has never brought you success.” Trust your instincts, the gang believes, and advises Justine that “moral feelings are deceptive, only physical sensations are true.”

In other words, vice is rewarded, a message Justine hears throughout the novel.

The second theme centers on religion. Sade is an atheist in a time when the hegemony of the Catholic Church in France is coming under fire.

The “creator” is a fantasy, the gang informs Justine. The only reality is the here and now and like a dog, they assert, why should we “abandon the bone for the shadows and renounce real pleasures for the sake of illusions?”

If anything in the state of nature (the time before societies existed according to the French philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau) is bad, why does nature allow it to exist?

This is Sade’s central question.

But the author is not finished. Later when Justine is under the thumb of the perverted monks, one of them, Clement, takes pride in their impiety, finding pleasure in the “egoism, cruelty, and debauchery” that offends “the mythical God.”

260c1b95dac55720bcb251a30a113aa7Rebirth

All of this is not to say that Sade believes that an end is an end. In fact, he has his own version of regeneration or eternal life, if you will.

The Comte de Bressac tells Justine that matter is “reborn in other guises” because “all men, all animals, all plants . . . grow, feed, and are destroyed.” They go back into the earth where they “never truly die but merely undergo variation and modification.”

Later Rodin justifies murder using the same logic.

“If nothing dies or is destroyed, [or] is ever lost in Nature,” he says, it’s “just waiting “to reappear immediately in new forms.”

To deny this process (even if it is what society calls murder) is the “real crime,” the scientist claims.

Finally, Sade accounts for man’s perversities.

From Clement, the defiled Justine learns that “there are no tastes (sadomasochism included) that do not derive from the kind of make-up we have been given by Nature.” He expands on this inborn deviancy by stating the “pleasures of the senses are always dependent on the imagination.”

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When Justine assails him for his “taste for cruelty and horror,” Clement retorts, “If Nature were offended by these tastes it would not inspire us [to express them].”

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So we have Justine, a novel that tackles Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s social contract popular in eighteenth century France. Man is born into a State of Nature where there are no moral laws and must enter into communities to preserve himself.

Of course, Sade has his own libertine opinion on the outcome.

Next we’ll look at the characters from Justine Jac Avila has taken for his adaptation of the narrative.

 

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