Eugenie (1969)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 12, 2009  | 
DVD
Blue Underground (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 1.0, French DD 1.0. 87 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Marie Liljedahl, Maria Rohm, Jack Taylor, Christopher Lee
Screenplay: Peter Welbeck
Country: France
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Prolifiic maverick Spanish director Jess Franco has has quite a few bashes at making films based on the works of French nutcase libertine Donatien Alphonse Francois, the Marquis de Sade, and this is probably the best of them. Indeed, he even had another crack at this story with Eugenie de Sade (aka Eugenie 2000), but this still remains, I think, his definitive take on the Marquis' work. I think that Franco is the only director who really understands de Sade's amoral outlook on the world, and while that might sound like I'm branding him a pervert, what I mean is that other directors who've tried making movies of de Sade's work, or even about de Sade (the execrable Quills, for example), fail to really capture what the world of literature's most notorious writer was really on about – usually relying on cheap shock tactics to titillate the audience.

I'm not saying that this doesn't capitalise on de Sade's reputation and isn't an exploitative film (believe me, it is), what I am saying is that Franco's essays at de Sade's work display a genuine care for the ideas behind the text as much as the desire to show sex and violence for the great unwashed. And it's the ideas that power de Sade's stories. Pasolini, in Salo, used the Marquis' reputation as a shorthand for cruelty and oppression, loaded up with his own political agenda – thus, Salo is Pasolini's film, rather than being an authentic adaptation of The 120 Days of Sodom. Franco lets the Marquis' thoughts come through his films at all points, facilitating the truly shocking nature of de Sade's philosophy via his given medium.

So, is this an adaptation of de Sade's short story Eugenie de Franval? No. It's a successfully updated attempt at de Sade's most concise and succinct voicing of his views, Philosophy in the Boudoir. Eugenie (Liljedahl) is a tender young thing who is about to learn a lesson of depravity she'll never forget. The libertines she encounters at a remote luxury estate are trying to corrupt her totally, to make her lose all the values that she holds and become like them, a creature without morals, loyalty or any of the other attitudes that are drummed into us in a christian society from a young and impressionable age.

Christopher Lee as Dolmance (de Sade's mouthpiece in the novel) acts as a kind of narrator for us, and draws us into the film. He's obviously relishing the role, and as the consummate villain actor, this was practically a role he was born to play. The opening narration, delivered in front of a tableau of a naked woman on a sacrificial altar surrounded by a bunch of perverts (some wearing stockings over their heads, others, like Franco himself, not), serves not so much as a cautionary tale but more to whet the appetite for what we're about to see.

Eugenie's life is not an especially happy one – her mother is a control freak and smothers her, frustrating the teenager at every turn. This of course will help make her into a very apt pupil for the libertines, as one of de Sade's main tenets is to cast off any notion of family loyalty – why should you care for your mother? She wasn't thinking of you at the moment of conception, and was only concerned with the pleasure she was deriving from the act of sex. You are the by-product of that, and that is all. Eugenie's father is a slightly different kettle of fish, but more of that later...

Eugenie is going to stay on her friend Marian's (Rohm) island for the weekend (although we also get introduced to this friend as Madame Renee in the very next scene), who it's set up for us to see in the opening scenes is also known to Eugenie's father. They've got a bit of a thang going on, and sweet little Eugenie is caught in the middle, unbenownst to her. She's in for a surprise, as Marian isn't alone – Mirvel (Jack Taylor without the trademark moustache) is also there, and he's got solid wood for Eugenie, although trying to woo someone with quotes from de Sade is probably not the greatest seduction technique known to mankind.

Marian's approach to seduction is slightly more subtle – if naked sun-bathing and making someone rub your boobs with sun-tan oil before snogging them and having a bit of a mutual grope is subtle. She's promised to teach Eugenie, although she's been rather non-specific about what exactly she's going to be teaching. Lesbianism 101 seems to be the course du jour given the evidence so far. Both herself and Mirvel have started with some of de Sade's milder philosophy – the importance of pleasure, and a sense of self (mind you, they don't leap in like de Sade's "heroes" like Juliette, they're trying to woo her around to their way of thinking gradually).

The only character so far who seems to have any morals at all is Augustin, Marian's gardener and general handyman, and he, it seems, can be silenced for money – well, there's also Therese, Marian's deaf-mute servant, but the mere fact of her disabilities speaks volumes about the efficacious nature of virtue in this world (and her later assault by Mirvel is similarly letting us know that the poor are totally disempowered and disenfranchised, too – as in de Sade's novels, it's the ruling elite who can do whatever the hell they want, and those not in a position of power, suffer). What was true in de Sade's day is still true in ours, and Franco's just letting us know it. We also find out that Marian and Mirvel are part of a wider circle of libertines who are descending on the island with all due haste – Eugenie would appear to be some hot property indeed. Everyone seems to want to get their filthy mitts on her. But as even Mirvel seems nervous about their arrival, the audience knows that this is a bit ominous.

The incestuous pair (Mirvel is Marian's step-brother, and there's a certain unnatural degree of physical proximity to their relationship) drug Eugenie and strip her, and Mirvel decides that while she's out cold he may as well lick her all over – some parts get more attention than others – and then gets it on with Augustin on the same bed as the comatose girl.

After dinner and slipping Eugenie another mickey finn, this time in a cigarette (no, not a big fat doobie, Mirvel says the cigarettes are Turkish – I'm assuming laced with opium, from Eugenie's reaction), Dolmance and the gang turn up, dressed in period costume of late 18th century France, the time de Sade was writing in. Marian and Mirvel strip, grab some whips, a mace (!) and other assorted martinets and give Eugenie a thrashing, as Dolmance drolly intones more wisdom from "the divine Marquis" as his followers tend to call him, particularly the surrealists (the idea is his surrealism was that of the flesh – if you read some of his more extreme works, that statement makes sense), about the nature of cruelty. We're getting a pretty good display of that right now.

And yet, when Eugenie wakes the next morning, the marks from the beating are all gone, and she's about as confused as the audience. We saw the beating, it wasn't a dream – huh?! What the hell happened? Eugenie naively believes Marian's insistence that it was a dream, and so her holiday continues with a boat ride around the island and a sing-a-long, as if nothing had happened. There's a difference between naivete and stupidity, you know... And so Eugenie dreams, and it's not a pleasant dream by any stretch of the imagination, as we later find out when we see the whole thing played out in reality.

Dolmance and the gang turn up one more time (and it's funny to add that a lot of the shots Christopher Lee did in the film were altered later in the editing process to make it look like he was involved in some of the more, shall we say "lurid" scenes in the film, when during the filming, he wasn't – Towers admits the deception in the special features), and all bets are off for our damsel in distress – and that includes morally. Oh, and if you're a fan of the novel, the movie doesn't play itself out in the same way, so don't expect it to. If anything, it takes an oddly moral tone and leaves our heroine in a way that I don't think de Sade would approve of – mind you, there's a moral ambiguity or blind-spot that I think he'd quite like.

I've mentioned in previous reviews that when Franco is not engaged with his work and has been hired as a jobbing director, his output is mediocre (like say, Nightmares Come At Night), or worse (the truly awful Devil Hunter), but when he is into the film he is creating, such as this one, he really shines – his camerawork comes alive and the resulting film will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything you care to mention in the same genre. Christopher Lee states in the interviews in the special features that Franco is a director under-estimated by many, and that the shortfalls in his movie-making are more due to lack of time (this film was shot in three weeks – Lee's parts in two days) than any technical ineptitude, and I agree with that whole-heartedly. If producers wanted him to crank out product like a sausage-machine, then that's what they got in return. When Franco was working with Harry Alan Towers, he was still on a restricted time frame, but he produced most of his best work, having found a partner more simpatico with his vision and approach to film-making.
Video
Crystal clear anamorphic 2.35:1 presentation. Of all the Franco films I've seen, this one definitely looks the best, and not just in terms of cinematography and aspect ratio – the restoration job is pretty darned good. Thumbs up, Blue Underground, on a top-shelf presentation.
Audio
Bruno Nicolai's score is worthy of mention, equal parts innocent and dream-like, and sleazy bump and grind, much like Eugenie herself – it's very much a product of its time, and while that does date the film, it suits it to the hilt; this is perfectly suited to the late sixties and I can't think of a more appropriate context for the film to have been set in, given the whole counter-culture movement and questioning of authority and all. Swinging de Sade! Otherwise, the audio is clear as a bell (although it seems to have dated – it sounds old), although given it's a mono track, the dynamic range is a little limited.
Extra Features
Well, there's the theatrical trailer (although you've presumably just watched the film...), a poster and stills gallery, a text bio and filmography of Jess Franco and an excellent featurette called "Perversion Stories". This features interviews with director Franco, producer Harry Alan Towers and stars Marie Liljedahl (proving that hindsight is always 20-20, and placing her in a similar category of historical revisionism as Barbara Steele and Linda Lovelace) and the always awesome and entertaining Christopher Lee – the man knows how to tell a story and make it interesting. Franco's always very candid and frank in interviews as well – he always comes across as a totally "no-bullshit" kind of guy. He admits that he's not fond of his movies, and that he knows that they're flawed, but he does state that Eugenie is the one he hates least. It's also kind of interesting to me that while I was researching the film, I read an interview with Franco in Book Two of Creation's Necronomicon series, and the director explicitly states that he is not trying to make intellectual films, he tries to make films for everybody, and I kind of like that egalitarian stance. He has a healthy distrust for the intellectualisation of his ouevre. And yes, I do realise the irony of that statement.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
One of Jess Franco's very best films, and also one of the best adaptations of the work of the Marquis de Sade, Eugenie isn't any attempt to represent the atrocities of the book – no one tries to sew up their mother's cunt, for example – more an attempt to represent the ideas de Sade was trying to get into circulation. As such, it succeeds admirably, and never needs to descend into the cartoonish depictions of sex and violence that the diminutive French cavalry officer revelled in. If you've never watched a Jess Franco film before, and you're keen on a bit of sexploitation, I'd probably start here – or with Vampyros Lesbos, although the pacing here is far more engaging. Frankly, as much as I like the other film – things actually happen in this one. The performances are generally good, and it never descends into campness the way that some Franco films do. All up, an entertaining and reasonably thought-provoking film from a much-maligned director who shows here that he knew exactly what he was doing.

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