Monday, June 21, 2010

Histoire d'O (Just Jaeckin, 1975)

Films based on controversial books, particularly books that are considered pornographic, are difficult to translate to film. Just Jaeckin's histoire d'O (The Story of O) based on Pauline Réage's novel nicely handles difficult material, balancing the brutality and sensuality of the text without dwelling too long on either.

If you are unfamiliar with the novel, "O" is a woman brought into a secret society by her lover René at the château d'Roissy. Here women are dominated and "taught" to obey any man who is a society member, or is privy to their secrets. There are a number of rules including; the women cannot speak to the men nor look them in the face, they may not wear any undergarments and must wear loose skirts, they must provide any service the men desire. After her training, O is given to René's friend, Sir Stephen. It is a misogynistic tale that follows some Sadean themes, yet is more engaged in eroticism than philosophy.

The movie dances the line between eroticism and pornography nicely. Jaeckin, along with cinematographers Robert Fraisse and Yves Rodallec, frames the shots in such a way that the intent is obvious, yet not graphic. It does seem that things fall apart a bit in the last half-hour, as there is some definite "stroke material" and some of the society's men, including Sir Stephen, seem to be disgusted by the practices. To be fair, the book tends to be sloppy at this point as well.

One of the best parts for me is Udo Kier as René. When I read books, I like to get a picture in my head of the characters. Kier is not the perfect picture I had of René, but an excellent choice. First, it's Udo Kier. You can't make a Eurotrash film without him. Secondly Kier's homosexuality adds to the role. René is, in many ways, in love with Sir Stephen. They are more of a couple than René and O or Sir Stephen and O. René lives to please Sir Stephen, but unfortunately this theme drops a bit toward the end of the film.

If you've read the book, this is worth seeing. If you love Eurotrash, again it is worth seeing. Both the book and film have the disturbing ability to make the inherent misogyny erotic, as it appears everything O does is by choice. I still find the character to be a doormat despite her claims of willingness. If sexual politics are of interest to you, again, this is worth watching.

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