By Jerome Reuter
The name Marquis De Sade has become synonymous with sexual depravity, and sadism. His writings remain some of the most controversial put to paper, even today. Considering the content of the work, it might seem impossible to adapt them to celluloid. At least, creating an adaptation that’s not as heavy as the actual source material. Undoubtedly, the most famous adaptation is Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo: Or The 120 Days Of Sodom. Although highly sexual, both the book and the film have a hidden agenda, which some might not pick up on right away. It’s essentially a work exposing the hypocrisy of the ruing class, and their ability to exploit the populous.
It’s De Sade’s other novel Justine, which remains quite possibly one of his most infamous. It’s the story of two sisters, Justine and Juliet. They’re forced from a convent at an early age, and take very separate paths in life. Juliette chooses a life of vice and debauchery, while Justine pursues virtue. Juliette’s adventures are chronicled in a book of the same name, worth the read as well.
Nothing goes right for Justine; she constantly makes one mistake after another. As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Her virtuous nature lands her in hot water again, and again. The story of the two sisters is almost a commentary on which is the best path to take in life. The facsimile of the character Justine has wound in other works, including Alucarda, and Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia.
So, how do you adapt this story to celluloid? Who is going to tell a tale of erotic misadventures’? The answer is simple: Jesus Franco. In a way, he was the perfect person to tell this story. Even though he watered down the source material, and took liberties, it’s still a Franco film. That means it’s a good idea to have a jar of Vaseline nearby. It’s also the look of this one, like many of his films.
The films itself is actually well done, it’s light hearted at times, and tries to keep to the source material as best it can. The film itself is told as a fantasy from the mind of De Sade, played by Klaus Kinski. Many of Justine’s misadventures are from trusting the wrong people, and making poor judgments. From being duped out of her money by a priest, to being condemned to death after being falsely accused of murder. (Only to conveniently escape.)
In one of the films most memorable scenes, she falls in with a group of perverted libertines, disguised as monks. In one of the strangest casting decisions you’ll ever see, veteran actor Jack Palance plays their leader. That’s one of the high points with this one, watching Palance completely ham it up in the role.
So, how does this one hold up? Surprisingly well. It’s not to be taken as a serious adaptation, as you’ll see from the films conclusion. Franco does his best to bring this story to life, and make it entertaining. It’s not as seedy as A Virgin Among The Living Dead, but just as fun.