"I guess you could say I’m half saint, half whore." "Here’s hoping I get the half that eats!" (Love and Death) Réage’s "recurring dreams" of defilement, domination and goofy masques, shot through Justin Jaeckin’s proto-Skinemax filter of honeyed flesh. The Château de Roissy is the Gothic sexual seminary of choice, into it walks "O" (Corinne Cléry) to prove her feelings for her jaded-reprobate beau (Udo Kier). "You mustn’t keep your legs together, that’s forbidden." A masochist’s education is an arduous and whip-heavy one, she’s promptly bound and collared and fed a steady diet of chains, blindfolds and rough gangbangs. (The goal is not just to ravish the blank-faced demoiselle, but to make her scream.) Emerging from the dungeon with a stronger appetite for S&M games and a declining interest in her lover, she dabbles in fashion photography ("I have a penchant for rituals"), is sent to crawl for a graying "tutor" (Anthony Steel), and gets the branding iron at a mock-convent full of Victorian fembots. All the flagellations and talk of control and severed labia do nothing so much as bring things back to the docile mentality of the bourgeois household, which of course is the joke. Or would have been, had Buñuel handled it. (A bottomless Michael Lonsdale crying for debasement in The Phantom of Liberty has more humor and sting than anything here.) A shot of the heroine decked out in plumed mask and open robe in the back of a speeding boat has a certain lunatic grandeur, but Jaeckin’s interest in the material’s "insolent beauty" never digs beyond the gloss of polished leather and prettily painted-on welts. Pasolini’s Salò gives the soft-focus lens the fecal smear it deserves, Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut spoofs it most analytically, further correctives come from Breillat and Von Trier. With Jean Gaven, Christiane Minazzoli, Martine Kelly, Jean-Pierre Andréani, and Laure Moutoussamy.
--- Fernando F. Croce