Saturday, 3 November 2007
Eugénie de Sade (1970)
Jess Franco’s Eugénie de Sade is his attempt at an adaptation of a work by the notorious Marquis de Sade. A young woman is initiated by her father, a writer who regards himself as misunderstood genius, into the pleasures of murder. Franco certainly has a knack for creating disturbing female killers, women who seem to be driven to kill by overwhelming forces or emotions – in Female Vampire it’s her insatiable vampiric hunger, in She Killed in Ecstasy it’s a woman taking revenge for the death of her beloved husband, and in Eugénie de Sade it’s Eugénie’s obsessive, and incestuous, devotion to a dominating father. The relationship with her father is handled with considerable subtlety, and Soledad Miranda is mesmerising as Eugénie. She makes us believe that Eugénie is as much a victim as a monster. She is an innocent drawn into evil. Paul Muller is very good, and very creepy, as her father, Albert Radeck. Franco himself plays the role of another writer, a man who has followed Radeck’s literary career with great interest, and is now equally fascinated by his criminal career. Radeck regards murder not merely as an intellectual recreation for superior minds, but seems to see it also as a form of art, and the movie very effectively pursues this link between literature and cruelty, and between art and death. If murder can be a subject for art, can murder itself become art? The film raises such questions in a rather uncomfortable way, and Franco’s ability to make murder both entertaining and beautiful serves to make the viewer even more uneasy. The link between sex and death, always an unsettling element in horror, is even more disturbing than usual in this film. Most of all the film makes is disquieting because it takes de Sade’s ideas seriously, and it compels us to take them seriously as well. We can disagree violently with those ideas, and in fact we probably should disagree violently with them, but it may well be both useful and healthy to at least face up to the existence of such questions, and to admit their relevance to an understanding of our own civilisation. Jess Franco remains one of the few directors able to crate genuine erotic horror; not horror with added sex, but horror in which the erotic and the horror are inextricably linked. While there are still many who dismiss Franco as a film-maker, Eugénie de Sade is a movie that is compelling, fascinating and brilliant.