Saturday, 25 June 2022

Cries of Pleasure (1983)

Cries of Pleasure (Gemidos de placer) is a 1983 Jess Franco movie and 80s Franco is a bit different to 70s Franco.

It opens with a body floating in a swimming pool. A guy, Fenul, is playing the guitar. He wants us to know how the guy ended up face-down in the pool. Fenul seems to have the mind of a child and seems to consider himself to be Antonio’s slave. He seems to play the role of narrator which immediately raises some questions. How much does Fenul understand of what is going on? He seems to be mystified by sex and everything in this household is driven by sex.

Antonio (Antonio Mayans) has three women in his life. The first is his wife Martina (Rocio Freixas). She’s coming home after a stay in a mental hospital. She was being treated for schizophrenia and nymphomania. We soon find out that her nymphomania is far from cured.

The second woman is Marta. She’s Antonio’s slave, and apparently Martina’s slave as well. She’s hopelessly in love with Antonio.

The third woman is Julia (Lina Romay). She’s a new player in the game. Antonio has apparently just found her. Julia and Antonio have plans involving Martina. But then everyone involved in the four-player game that is about to commence has plans for somebody.

To judge from their frantic love-making there’s a pretty strong sexual obsession between Antonio and Julia.

Martina’s reaction when she catches Antonio and Julia having sex will be interesting. Marta’s reaction will be interesting as well. She’s the jealous type although she;’s reluctantly accepted having to share Antonio with Martina.

Pretty soon almost everybody has had sex with everybody else.

These people are playing games but what makes the games interesting is that they’re simultaneously sexual, emotional and intellectual games. In such games there are times when the participants are driven purely by physical desire. Sometimes they’re driven by emotion. And sometimes the motivation is intellectual - the sheer pleasure of inventing and playing intricate and devious games, to see how the game will play out.

This was one of the many Franco films heavily influenced by de Sade. The players in the game in Cries of Pleasure do not consider themselves to be bound by social conventions, social rules or laws. They do whatever their desires tell them to do. That would have dangerous potentialities in a two or even three player game but in a four player game things are likely to get messy. You have to wonder how many players will be left at the end of the game. These are people who don’t just disregard social rules about sex. They’re also blissfully unconcerned about minor things like murder. Fenul tells us that he is always left to clean up afterwards which has apparently on several occasions included getting rid of the bodies.

There is a kind of a mystery element here. We figure that one or more of these people will most likely end up dead but we don’t have any idea which ones.

While Franco was fascinated by de Sade and by the Sadeian ethos that doesn’t mean he approved of it. We see in this film that single-minded pursuit of pleasure without regard for rules leads to emptiness and loneliness. It’s the loneliness of these characters that gives the movie a melancholy tone. That’s why the sex scenes are important. They show us that there’s no emotional connectedness at all between these people. They remain solitary and isolated. They feel only their own pleasure and it doesn’t satisfy them and they’re so caught up in their fantasy that the pursuit of sensual pleasure is the only thing that matters that they don’t even know why they’re unsatisfied.

Franco was heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s Rope when making this movie. There are very very few cuts in Cries of Pleasure. Mostly it’s just long long takes which achieve the kind of hypnotic dream-like quality that Franco liked.

There’s an immense amount of nudity and sex. It’s softcore but I’d call it strong softcore. The sex scenes are not gratuitous since all of the characters’ motivations revolve around sex and much of what we learn about these people we learn from watching them having sex.

Like quite a few of his 80s movies this seems like a very personal movie. The sex and nudity would be enough to ensure that it got distribution but apart from that Franco is doing his own thing, musing about the implications of sexual desire and death and obsession.

Franco had a positive genius when it came to finding superb locations, and locations that were perfectly in tune with the mood of the films he was making. He really came up trumps this time.

Franco’s relationship with Golden Films at this time was a two-edged sword. It gave him absolute artistic freedom but the company was totally incompetent when it came to distribution and these movies were never seen anywhere outside of Spain.

Severin’s release (which looks great) includes a swag of extras - a 1993 interview with Jess and Lina, a mini-documentary on his movies for Golden Films and an excellent Stephen Thrower mini-documentary on Franco’s locations.

Cries of Pleasure is Franco at his most uncompromisingly Franco-esque and it’s one of his best movies, both stylistically and thematically. Appreciating 80s Franco requires some adjustment if you’re used to his 70s output but his 80s work repays the effort.

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