Monday, February 25, 2013
STORY OF O
Just Jaeckin, 1975
Starring Corinne Clery, Udo Kier, Anthony Steel
A young, beautiful woman, known only as O (Corinne Clery), allows her boyfriend Rene (Udo Kier) to take her to Roissy, a chateau where she will be trained in the exquisite art of the samurai sword. Just kidding. She's actually being trained to be a sexual submissive. She will be beaten, blindfolded, gagged, ordered around and made sexually available to anyone who wants her, anytime, anyway, anyhow. She does this to prove her undying love for Rene, who is greatly pleased with her progress. Eventually Rene, who now "owns" her, gives her away to his closest friend, Sir Stephen. O and Sir Stephen have a more challenging relationship, which O initially resents, but they come to have a much closer, more intimate bond.
Based on Pauline Reage's famous novel of the same name, Histoire d'O is a difficult film to wrap your head around. I've read the novel many times, so I'm obviously biased in favor of the text. When both were released - about twenty years apart - there was a media shit storm about women's rights, decency, etc. I don't really see why anyone would make such a big deal. Everything that happens is between consensual adults. Nothing - implied rape, torture, branding, beatings and so on - happens without O's consent and she is asked several times if she wants to stay at Roissy, if she wants to stay with Sir Stephen and if she is alright with the things being done to her. Her answer is an unconditional yes.
I really loved this book growing up. I read it when I was way too young, but the author manages to transcend the shackles of normal smut, particularly bondage smut. Pauline Reage, the pen name for journalist Anne Desclos, surprised audiences by being female. She allegedly wrote the book as a love letter to her older, married lover. It came out later that the lover in question was Jean Paulhan, her boss, member of the Académie Française, writer, critic, and editor of the famous literary magazine Nouvelle Revue Française. He was a huge fan of Sade, which explains Declos' obvious inspiration. The novel is beautifully written, compassionate and details a woman's spiritual, transcendant experience. Though she endures such things as whippings and rape, these experiences bring her to a higher level of consciousness and closer to an ecstatic erasure of identity.
Of course, the film doesn't quite reach these heights, but its still a beautiful, competent work of erotica by the same director who gave us Emmanuelle. The acting is good for erotica of this period, particularly the sassy, sexy Corinne Clery (better known as the Bond girl in Moonraker who gets mauled to death by dogs and as the female lead in Yor, Hunter from the Future), though I wish we saw more of Udo Kier. Despite the subject matter, the film isn't particularly explicit. It was initially given an X/NC-17 rating, but you don't see a whole lot of explicit sex. There is a lot of female frontal nudity and at least half the film has a naked person in frame. The violence is tame and mostly not shown, as is the sex. You honestly can't even call most of this softcore.
The DVD is available on a barebones release that looks like it was transfered from someone's shitty VHS tape. And it's fullscreen. I managed to forget about this twenty minutes into the film, so Jaeckin is obviously doing something right with lush colors, beautiful women and elaborate scenery. Story of O does come recommended, but only to fans of '70s erotica.