Severin Films // 1979 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // March 30th, 2007
Three masters of international erotica come together for one provocative collection.
Private Collections proves four things:
1) Laura Gemser can sear the aqueous humour right out of your eyeballs,
2) Just Jaeckin actually does have a sense of humor,
3) Shuji Terayama does extremely odd work, and
4) Walerian Borowczyk can make even the most mundane premise watchable.
I'm not sure what producer Pierre Braunberger seat out to prove when he cajoled noted erotica directors Just Jaeckin, Shuji Terayama, and Walerian Borowczyk into joining this project, but that's what comes out in the wash. Each director delivers a short film that is loosely tied to the theme of women using sex to manipulate vulnerable men. There isn't much rhyme or reason to the trio of films; today, removed from the "now" of the burgeoning reputations of these directors, we must find whatever meaning we can.
L'île aux sirènes
An irritating Frenchman in a Seiko t-shirt (international economic symbolism, or is that asking too much?) washes up on a remote island. He sunburns, harangues, and smokes his way into a relationship with the natives, until it all goes awry.
Half of the above list belongs to Just Jaeckin's L'île aux sirènes, so he comes out the big winner in this half-baked erotic anthology. Indonesian goddess Laura Gemser walks around in some cockle shells and not much else. It is no wonder that the cover of this DVD features a nude Gemser dallying in a river to the exclusion of the women in the other shorts. Gemser is arresting and dominates the first film; her presence (or lack thereof) is felt once L'île aux sirènes gives way to Terayama's Kusa-Meikyu. Sadly, she is little more than a mannequin and does nothing overtly sexual to really fire the Y-linked neurons.
Other than a vehicle for Gemser (and a cute young lass who stays mostly in the background, eyes smoldering), L'île aux sirènes is a half-hearted attempt at erotic mystery-making. Why do four lithe, comely ladies fawn all over a dumpy, stranded French sailor? Why do they put up with his harping and buffoonery? Why do they force feed him and continually exfoliate his skin? It's a delicious mystery...unless you've seen the last act of any Emanuelle film.
L'île aux sirènes doesn't reach any dark corners of humanity, but Jaeckin crafts a serviceable surrealism that taps into the castaway stereotype. The short film subtly morphs from survivor comedy into slapstick horror. We can almost pretend there isn't a Motel 6 just off screen.
With the opening pleasantries out of the way, Shuji Terayama introduces us to some old-school, bat-shit insanity. Very little about Kusa-Meikyu makes sense, yet all of it is disturbing. The gist of the flick is that a young man was warped as a youth by a broken nursery rhyme and some potent sexual energy. This energy may or may not have radiated from a nearby hut where a local loonie sings to herself -- and spins webs of tawdry sex and lies to trap unwary men, just before laughing maniacally and raping them with chopsticks. But other girls stand solemnly and throw a red ball off a cliff. The boy's mother straps him to a tree and paints him all over with warding symbols. Meanwhile, sailors return home and birds fly backwards. The red ball meets an upside-down umbrella in a stream. Circus performers undress and toss around a large red ball. The boy returns to the hut and spies on the loonie chick while she bathes. Little bald children dance on the hillside. The boy trudges through the stream.
While Kusa-Meikyu is incomprehensible to Western minds, we Westerners know hot sex when we see it. The sex in Kusa-Meikyu is the hottest of the lot because men and women actually get naked and thrust their bodies against each other while the camera looks on with frantic energy. It isn't explicit, but Terayama was honest enough to throw in some full-frontal nudity to help us sketch in the details. As for the rest of it, bring your I-Ching and a good Japanese dictionary.
Guy de Maupassant is apparently an author who apparently wrote stories about Impressionist-era France and the struggles between the classes of society. I say this because Borowczyk's L'Armoire is an adaptation of a de Maupassant short story and I'm too lazy to look up the source material.
Of the three directors, Walerian Borowczyk is most familiar with the "three short erotic films slapped together and called a feature" school of film making: His Immoral Tales and Immoral Women collections are precisely that. As such, L'Armoire gives the impression that Borowczyk was treading familiar waters, but doing one third of the work this time around.
L'Armoire is a formless story about an aimless, upper-class guy looking for some tail. He's depressed, and he wants to boink someone to ease his pain. But he doesn't really want to boink her as much as dissect her psyche in a drawn-out therapy session about first times and the pain of loss. The whore winces at his melancholy and amateur psychology, probably wishing he would do her, cheer up, and leave.
The clincher is that the woman of the night he's chosen has a secret that makes this John's mind games all the more cruel. And what's with all of the sounds coming from the cupboard in her apartment?
The story is unmemorable, yet Walerian Borowczyk's craftsmanship makes it the most satisfying tale of the lot. There's little sex in L'Armoire, but it actually tells a story with absorbable symbolism. The twist at the end is not remotely surprising, and could have been made more heart-rending with more emphasis on facial expressions and the depravity of the conversation. Ranked against the three short films in Immoral Women, L'Armoire is better than the one with the dog but worse than the one with the bunny.
Though L'île aux sirènes, Kusa-Meikyu, and L'Armoire share very little in terms of theme, locale, or period, they share one important trait: exquisite cinematography. Jaeckin provides the meat and potatoes in that regard with his lush shots of burnished bodies, cool waterfalls, and tropical foliage. Terayama is the sushi, with billowing yards of scarlet fabric, desaturated color schemes, potent lipstick in garish colors to emphasize wanton insanity, and other symbolic trickery. The shot of the umbrella slowly submerging in the stream is beautiful, while the image of a word-covered man humping a word-covered woman is just odd.
Borowczyk is no slouch either. His story is cast in somber blacks and browns with soft filters that evoke Impressionist portraiture. L'Armoire literally looks like a moving painting, which is difficult to achieve. If L'Armoire proves nothing else, it proves that Borowczyk has absolute command of the camera.
Private Collections is brought to us uncut in a decent transfer with no major audio-visual distractions. The prints have faded with time and the mono soundtracks are on the thin side, but the Private Collections transfer is up to snuff. Severin even provides real extras, such as comprehensive text biographies of the directors, a theatrical trailer that is surprisingly good, and a brief-but-meaty interview with Just Jaeckin. I feel much better about the man and his work after watching his humble admission that he was having fun and not taking the picture too seriously. It also makes me want to check out The Story of O (discovering that "O" is Bond Girl Corinne Clery has nothing to do with it, honest!).
Private Collections has a handful of erotic moments, though it doesn't keep up the simmer long enough to achieve a real boil. It is inconsistent to boot; each tale has its own weaknesses and strengths, and they don't complement each other. But the collection features great camerawork and three popular directors of erotica. If you're a fan of one of those directors, Private Collections won't shame your collection.
Review content copyright © 2007 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese, with French)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Island of Just" Interview with Just Jaeckin
* Director Biographies