Synopsis: Marie Liljedahl (the luscious star of Inga) is Eugenie, an innocent young woman taken to an island paradise where she is initiated into a world of pleasure and pain controlled by the sinister Dolmance (Christopher Lee). But when she surrenders to her own forbidden fantasies, Eugenie becomes trapped in a frenzy of drugs, sadomasochism and murder. Can a frightened girl in the grip of carnal perversion find sanctuary in the orgies of the depraved?
Jack Taylor (Succubus) and Maria Rohm (Marquis De Sade’s Justine) co-star in this legendary erotic classic from Jess Franco, the infamous director of Vampyros Lesbos and Venus In Furs. Based on the notorious novel Philosophy In The Boudoir by the Marquis de Sade, this rarely seen shocker is presented completely uncut, and remains one of the most controversial explorations of extreme sexuality in European cinema history.
eyelights: the core concept. the massive amount of nudity. the girl on girl bits.
eyesores: the core concept. the plot holes. the weak production. the unprofessional dubbing.
I don’t have a particular interest in de Sade’s work. Despite having seen a couple of movies based on his works and/or his life, I have never fully enjoyed any of it and never felt an inkling of interest in reading his oeuvre. I just don’t find BDSM appealing in any way.
But I am interested in human psychology and sexuality, considering both for my university studies. And thus it is that I sometimes venture into the Marquis’ world in the safest possible way: via cinema. Whereas his books would take forever for me to get through, and likely offend me, I figured the films would give me just enough of a glimpse.
…if they are faithfully representative of the source material, that is.
Eugenie is based on ‘La Philosophie dans le boudoir’. It’s Jess Franco’s second adaptation de Sade’s works, after ‘Justine‘. It has been adapted to a then-modern setting, instead of taking place in the 19th century, but seems to have kept the key components of the original story, which is about the corruption of a young woman.
Since it was made in the late ’60s, Franco was forced to tone down some elements of de Sade’s story; it would have been impossible to make given the morals of the day. For starters, he (apparently, from what I’ve heard) had to change the ending so that Eugenie’s fate isn’t so tragic. It also had to limit its explicitness.
But it’s nonetheless a disturbing film. While I always enjoy films about manipulation because it’s about one person’s cleverness over another, here it’s more than just a match of wits: ‘Eugenie’ is about the trickery and debasement of a person who is pure oft heart, innocent, for the simple sake of doing harm. It’s a loathsome notion.
In the film version, Eugenie is befriended by Mme. de St. Ange, who then convinces her father to let Eugenie come to her island retreat for the weekend. In the matter of a couple of days, she and her accomplices manage to drug Eugenie and tear apart her morals and sanity. By the final few moments, Eugenie is a raving lunatic, incapable of grasping what’s happened to her.
Not pleasant. An apparently it’s worse in de Sade’s version. Eek.
The film isn’t particularly enjoyable not just because of its content, but because the film suffers in much the same way that other Franco films do: it was made with very limited means, its cast isn’t always terrific and it’s not always coherent. However, it has its fair share of moments, in particular the sexy stuff.
What makes ‘Eugenie’ sometimes sexy is the way that Franco shot the delicate, almost tender, ways in which the women would kiss and caress each other. There was a softness that was almost sublime given the nature of the picture. The way that Maria Rohm bathed, caressed, kissed and even suckled Eugenie was quite pleasing to see.
Well, I thought so, anyway.
Strangely, Rohm was the highlight of the film, even though it’s named after Marie Liljedahl’s character. She isn’t especially attractive or magnetic, but she had much more charisma than anyone else in the picture. Liljedahl, in particular, was virtually charmless and made of Eugenie someone we couldn’t possibly sympathize with.
I had issues with the relationships between the characters: Why was Eugenie interested in de St. Anne in the first place? What was she expecting to find in that friendship, which seemed so discrepant? And why were St. Anne and her gang interested in Eugenie, anyway? Despite their claims to the contrary, she’s actually rather plain, typical.
Furthermore, to make things even less credible, someone in the production confused sadism with cannibalism (or something of the sort) because they had the sadists perform atmospheric ceremonies of the likes you would find in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, but with murder, blood drinking and flesh eating as central components. That was utterly laughable.
It’s the kind of theatrical thing that led me to believe that they were just making the movie to exploit its controversial nature, not because of an understanding or love of the material. Franco says that he respects de Sade as a writer and always wanted to tackle his oeuvre, but, if that’s truly the case, something certainly got lost in translation.
It doesn’t really matter to me either way. Perhaps this would offend fans of de Sade, but I personally couldn’t care less. In the end, I just want a coherent, competent, entertaining film and ‘Eugenie’ has a difficult time delivering. It’s lacking on all fronts, but it’s not an entirely unwatchable picture – it’s just that it’s not really something you want to watch more than once.
Nota bene: Christopher Lee has a small role in the picture, and is sometimes billed as the star, but he only had a day’s filming on the picture – which the filmmakers edited and spread throughout. He didn’t even know they were making an erotic film; the producer even admits to having tricked him into it, omitting that detail. What a business, show business!
Date of viewing: June 10, 2013