This movie passes the Judge Gordon Sullivan test.
Murder. But more than murder. Incest. But more than incest. Eugenie is trapped in both.
For a work to avoid being considered obscene (at least in America), it must pass what's known as the Miller test. Condensed, the Miller test says that a work must appeal to the prurient interest, must be offensive, and "taken as a whole, [must] lack serious literary, artistic, political, and scientific value" to be considered obscene. With this in mind, inventive filmmakers have searched for innovative ways to work around charges of obscenity, especially when displaying nudity. Roadshow "educational" pictures would exhibit nudity and childbirth by claiming it was scientific. Pictures that claimed to be documentaries on nudist camps gave other directors the perfect excuse to show bare-breasted women, claiming it wasn't appealing to the prurient interest to watch two half-naked women play volleyball.
By far the largest number of bare breasts is shown, however, under the heading of "literary merit." There's nothing like a racy adaptation of an acknowledged classic to give filmmakers the excuse they need to show off some skin. More than most other authors, the work of the Marquis de Sade has provided the "classic" patina necessary to get a skin-fest made. Jess Franco's Eugenie de Sade fits proudly into that tradition.
Facts of the Case
Eugenie (Soledad Miranda, Vamypros Lesbos) lives alone with her stepfather Albert (Paul Muller, Count Dracula), a writer on erotic topics. With his help, Eugenie's sexuality awakens, and the two plot a series of "perfect murders." They are hounded by another writer who knows what they are up to, but when Eugenie finds true love with another man it all begins to unravel.
Let's be real for a second: this is not an adaptation, or really much of an homage, to the work of the Marquis de Sade. Sure, there's some depravity, but the issues of control and boundaries are not explored in Eugenie de Sade like they are in the best of the Marquis' work. Instead, this film owes more to the misguided Nietzschean ideas on display in films like Compulsion and Rope (both of which are based on the Leopold and Loeb killings). In these films, two young men decide that they are superior to their fellow man and concoct the perfect murder to demonstrate their superiority to the world, or at least themselves. In both films there is a homosexual subtext to the boy's relationship. Eugenie de Sade takes the idea of the perfect murder and substitutes incest for homosexuality between the two protagonists. There is also a moment when Albert is made to look like an Aleister Crowley figure, with references to "Necromicon" and The Beast. These aspects give the film interesting atmosphere, but fail to capture the work of de Sade.
What we get instead of an adaptation of the Marquis' work is a typical erotic Eurotrash film: long on atmosphere and nudity, short on plot. As the director of nearly 200 films, Franco learned how to place a camera and light a scene effectively. He'll probably never be considered an auteur like Hitchcock or Scorcese, but his films can be very distinctive. Prior to this film, I haven't liked his use of outdoor shots as they seemed generic and thrown in to pad the running time. In Eugenie, the house nestled on the edge of a lake, with its barren tress, is a wonderful mirror for the barren relationship between Eugenie and her father. It also helps that Franco photographs it beautifully. Keeping with his habit of featuring a nightclub performance, this film sets a key scene in a cabaret, offering yet another opportunity for female nudity and off-kilter lighting.
Franco also succeeds within the film as the character Attila. He looks like the sort of man who should be standing outside a porno theater in a raincoat, which gives his intellectual interest in Eugenie and Albert a perverse twist. Furthermore, while he seems to be toying with them early in the film, when things to go wrong and he must listen to Eugenie's confession he takes on an un-perverse paternal aspect. In contrast, Paul Muller never seems paternalistic. Instead, he gives off the perfect air of a corrupt and decadent intellectual, perhaps the most Sadian element in the film. He plays the role with an oddly detached passion, his desire for Eugenie evident but controlled by his intellectual nature. This leaves Soledad Miranda as Eugenie. I don't find her as bewitching as some, but there is definitely something enigmatic about her performance. It's neither stylized nor naturalistic, but as Franco describes it, "intuitive." I certainly found her more watchable here than I did in Vampyros Lesbos.
This film looks amazing on DVD. I wouldn't mistake it for being shot yesterday, but the print is remarkably free of damage and dirt. Blue Underground claims it was re-mastered from a recently discovered original negative, and I believe them. The included audio is typical dub work, but it gets the job done with a minimum of distortion. The included trailer is pretty funny, since it gives so much away. The only other extra is a 20-minute interview with Franco, filmed recently. He reminisces about de Sade, censorship, and working with Soledad. It's a treat for fans of Franco.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're not into the atmosphere and the nudity, it'll be a tedious 90 minutes. Those looking for lots of plot should go elsewhere.
Eugenie de Sade is a twisted take on the typical Eurotrash formula of exotic women and otherworldly atmosphere. It may not be de Sade, but it's prime Franco. Fans of his erotic works are urged to give this disc a spin. Those new to this era of erotic cinema should probably start with a tamer film like Vamypos Lesbos.
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• "Franco de Sade" Interview with Writer/Director Jess Franco
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