Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Sinner: Diary of a Nymphomaniac (1973)

It’s been a long wait for Mondo Macabro’s much-anticipated Jess Franco releases, and we’re still waiting for Lorna the Exorcist. Sinner: Diary of a Nymphomaniac (Le journal intime d'une nymphomane) has however finally seen the light of day. So was it worth the wait? I think the answer is a qualified yes.

This is not first-rank Franco, but it’s fairly good second-rank Franco.

It’s a murder story, but not exactly a murder mystery. The movie opens with the murder, which is in fact a suicide made to look like murder. That’s certainly no spoiler since we know all the facts about the supposed crime within the first five minutes of the film. Franco isn’t interested in giving us a mystery. What he wants to do is lead us back through the events that led a young woman to take such a drastic step.

The young woman in question is a hooker named Linda Vargas. She picks up a middle-aged businessman type in a bar, and once they’re naked in bed together she slits her throat.

Linda had arrived in the city as a fresh-faced innocent young country girl full of illusions, illusions which were quickly and savagely shattered when she was raped at a fairground. She never really recovers. She’s left with a sense of emptiness, which she fills with drugs and sex. But mostly sex. Sex with women at first, but later she develops a taste for sex with men as well. It doesn’t fill the emptiness, but it helps more than anything else that is available to her. She has complicated and not entirely successful affairs with two women, one of them a wealthy countess, the other a very exotic exotic dancer. She’s not really a full-time prostitute but when she needs money she has no other viable way of making a living.

She finds some hope when she encounters a kindly doctor (Howard Vernon) who helps her kick her drug habit but then comes the final betrayal that pushes her over the edge.

The main extra included is an extended talk by some guy called Stephen Thrower who apparently used to be in some famous band I’ve never heard of. He knows his Franco movies though, and that’s what counts. His contention that Sinner was inspired by Citizen Kane is by no means as outlandish as it sounds, given that Franco worked with Orson Welles and has always admired his work (and Welles’ final movie F for Fake is as trippy and outrageous as anything Franco has ever done).

It does follow the basic Citizen Kane structure. We start with a death, and then the movie itself is a search for answers about the person’s life. In this case the search is conducted by the wife of the man accused of Linda’s murder and she discovers things about her husband’s life as well as Linda’s. And it follows the Citizen Kane structure as well in that we see Linda’s life through the eyes of several different people who knew her, each of whom sheds light on a different aspect of her troubled life.

It’s a surprisingly compassionate movie. We learn to know Linda and to care about her. It’s more of a conventional tragedy than you generally expect from Uncle Jess.

The amount of nudity in this movie is truly prodigious, but it’s typical of Franco that while it has enough sexual content and nudity to have satisfied the raincoat brigade he’s also taken the opportunity to construct an interesting and provocative, and strangely touching, movie. And also to give us a bit of a homage to Welles.

The picture quality is top-notch. The extras aren’t overly exciting. Apart from the interview with Stephen Thrower there’s an interview with a sound editor who worked on many of Franco’s movies. He has some amusing anecdotes about Howard Vernon who was apparently enormous fun to work with.

Sinner doesn’t have the full-blown free-wheeling trippiness of Franco’s best movies but it’s certainly worth a look.

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