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Friday, March 23, 2018

SINFONIA EROTICA -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Spanish director Jess Franco burned his way through cinema like a fuse, voracious and volatile, leaving the ashes of his endeavor in his wake for us to sift through.

Much of it is of mere passing note to me, interesting only to see what such a prolific filmmaker produces when free to work fast and furious and pour out his id on film with little or no restraint.
But with this outpouring comes the occasional work that demands my attention and admiration (VAMPYROS LESBOS, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, COUNT DRACULA), and one such example is his 1980 anti-romantic, anti-erotic sexual nightmare SINFONIA EROTICA (Severin Films), based upon the writings of the Marquis de Sade. 

Franco's real-life love and muse Lina Romay (THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA, PAULA-PAULA) plays Martine de Bressac, returning home after months of confinement to a sanitarium by her husband, the Marqués Armando de Bressac (Armando Borges).

During her absence Armando has acquired and become addicted to a seductive, effeminate male lover named Flor (Mel Rodrigo), both of whom taunt and torture poor Martine with their flagrant contempt for both her emotional needs and urgent sexual desires.

Norma (Susan Hemingway), a timid young escapee from a nunnery, is found lying unconscious on the grounds during one of Armando and Flor's nature romps, and is taken in to become a part of their cruel sexual games. 

She ends up falling in love with Flor, and the two of them plan to not only aid in Armando's plan to murder Martine but to then get rid of Armando himself, leaving them free to run away together. Martine's only allies during all this are a sympathetic maid and a psychiatrist who may or may not believe her story.

Needless to say, SINFONIA EROTICA belies its opulent Victorian romance novel setting--Franco shot it in Portugal using gorgeous mansion interiors and magnificent exterior locations--with fervid, disturbing images of mental and physical cruelty in the form of ugly, non-erotic sex. 

When Franco makes a sex movie instead of a horror movie, the sex seems to replace the horror, or rather it becomes another kind of horror, of a deeper and more Freudian kind.

Here, he gives us a perversely erotic thriller that hates sex even as it's preoccupied with exploring Lina Romay's offbeat beauty and ample breasts as well as showing various joyless lovers rutting like animals in scenes that waver between softcore and hardcore action.

Although involved in several projects at the time (including THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME and TWO FEMALE SPIES WITH FLOWERED PANTIES), Franco seems neither rushed nor slapdash here, despite his usual shakily handheld camera. 

He lingers over his finely-rendered, sometimes impressionistic imagery as though following a deeply-pondered train of thought, and many of the shots are arranged with both a painter's sensibilities and a perceptive filmmaker's orchestration of character and movement.

Romay is at her best as Martine, looking strangely enticing at all times while also surrendering to the role with an intensity that evokes excitement and sympathy for her character. 

As Armando, Borges plays the heartless cad to a tee, relishing his own sadistic impulses which will eventually include coldblooded murder, which Franco depicts in non-graphic yet chilling style.

But the lack of graphic violence is made up for by the horrific depiction of sex and sexual desire as a Freudian nightmare that leads to madness when infused with malevolence and perversion.

Severin's Blu-ray disc (also available in DVD) is a 4k restoration of an uncut 35mm print which is the only known copy of this cut to exist.  There are some rough spots here and there, but, as I've often said, I prefer for a wizened exploitation print such as this to look like it's been around the block a few times. Otherwise, picture quality is fine. The soundtrack is in Spanish with English captions.

The visually rich fever dream that is SINFONIA EROTICA draws us into Martine's dark, corrupting psycho-sexual ordeal and has its way with us until somebody dies.

Special Features:
Jess Franco On First Wife Nicole Guettard – Interview With Director Jess Franco
Stephen Thrower On Sinfonia Erotica – Interview With The Author Of ‘Murderous Passions – The Delirious Cinema Of Jesus Franco’

Pre-order it from Severin Films
Release date: April 3, 2018


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