In the late seventies, French film producer Pierre Braunberger (the man who bankrolled Don't Shoot The Piano Player among many others) decided to wrangle up three of the more pre-eminent directors of erotic cinema to each provide a short film to make up an anthology. Once Just Jaeckin (the man behind Gwendoline and Emmanuelle), Shuji Terayama (the director of Fruits Of Passion) and Walerian Borowczyk (the twisted genius who brought us The Beast and Immoral Women) were signed up, Private Collections was unleashed - three very different films from three very different directors, each dealing with a different aspect of human sexuality.
Jaeckin's segment is first, entitled L'Ile Aux Sirenes, and it follows the story of an arrogant sailor (Roland Blanche) who, after getting knocked off of his boat, washes ashore on a tropical desert island with only his knife, a lighter and a pack of smokes. He thinks he's alone until he spies a beautiful native girl (Laura Gemser), and after he chases her down, they get it on. Soon, he finds that she's got three almost equally hot friends, all of who wander the island without any tops on. He lives with them for a bit, eating their food and drinking their water, and he periodically indulges in other, more carnal activities with them as well. He's living the life of a king, it would seem, or at the very least making the best out of his bad situation. When he wakes up and his knife is missing, he soon starts to wonder what's going on and when he finds the skeletons of some unlucky men who have come before him, he really starts to worry...
Enjoyably campy and filled with lovely tanned topless ladies, Jaeckin's story is an interesting story with a quirky, unpleasant ending. Blanche plays the 'male pig' character well and Gemser is as charming as she is beautiful even if she doesn't have any understandable dialogue. The locations are lush and tropical and the short is very well shot. You'll see the ending coming fairly early on but it's still an enjoyable ride getting there.
Shuji Terayama's Kusa Meika is up next, and it introduces us to a teenage peasant boy named Akira who lives with his eclectic mother. Akira meets a crazy woman who lives in a barn near their home and the two make love. His mother warns him to stay away from her, explaining that when she was unable to find a man she went completely insane, but he doesn't listen to her and he continues to see her. Finally he realizes that continuing this relationship would be a bad thing, and so he tries to physically force himself into staying away from her but it doesn't do any good and time and again he gives into his desires. Soon enough, her story comes to light and Akira learns the truth about her the hard way.
A stylistic blend of the surrealist filmmaking of Alejendro Jodorowsky and Fernando Arrabal mixed up with the slick trash film look of Japanese directors like Teruo Ishii, Terayama's short is completely bizarre and over the top. By far the most visually impressive of the three stories in the film, we're treated to all manner of macabre sexual imagery and strange colors and costumes as, what is at it's core a fairly simple folk tale, the story plays out for us. The English dubbed narration available on the second audio track for this story hurts the film a fair bit – for some reason the French version with the English subtitles suits the story better. Not necessarily the sexist or most erotic of stories, but a very interesting and compelling one none the less.
Walerian Borowczyk's chapter concludes the movie, it's entitled L'Armoir, and it tells the story of a French woman who works as a prostitute in a house of ill repute (Marie Catherine Conti) and a customer of hers (Yves-Marie Marin). As the two get to know one another they hear some noise coming from upstairs. Along the way, we're treated to an impromptu lesbian encounter and a hetero sex scene that plays out more or less covered before we're given a rather uninspired twist ending.
The fact of the matter is, this is the least erotic of the three tales here. That being said, it's a typically gorgeous looking Borowczyk film with some great period costumes and sets. The women all look lovely and the cinematography, shot in that sort of soft focus that the director seemed to be so found of, is pretty much flawless. Not the most interesting story or really a very good example of how interesting Borowczyk's films can be, this is still worth a look for fans.
Severin presents Private Collections in an excellent anamorphic 1.66.1 widescreen transfer. Aside from the very infrequent speck of print damage here and there, and just a little bit of shimmering in some spots, this DVD looks fantastic. The color reproduction is quite good and there are no problems with edge enhancement. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there is plenty of detail present in both the foreground and the background of the image throughout the film. Grain is kept to a minimum even if it is noticeable in some spots, it's never overpowering. Once again, Severin have done a nice job in the video quality department even if there is some (completely understandable) differences in quality and sharpness between the three parts of the movie.
Audio options are provided in both dubbed English (for the second story only) and French (the preferable way to watch the film), with both tracks presented here in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with optional subtitles available in English only. For older mono tracks, both mixes sound fine though the dubbing is a little on the goofy side for the second story. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to report and both tracks present the movie with clear dialogue and properly balanced levels.
Aside from a static menu and a chapter selection option, Severin provides the film's original theatrical trailer (and odd piece showing clips from each of the three films sans dialogue and set to music), talent biographies in text format and an interesting nine-minute video interview with director Just Jaeckin. Shot at the director's home in France (his dog at one point interrupts the interview to humorous effect), Jaeckin is quite blunt about his feelings on the film, claiming that he doesn't find it's particularly good but that he enjoyed making it and looks back on the experience as a nice vacation in the islands.
While the levels of 'eroticism' definitely very from story to story, each of the three shorts that comprise this feature are interesting and entertaining in their own right, even if sometimes they don't necessarily succeed as sex films. Severin has done a fantastic job on the transfer and provided the original and alternate language tracks for the picture in addition to an interesting interview with one of the directors. Private Collections isn't exactly mainstream fare, but that's not a bad thing and Euro-Trash and cult movie fans should eat this one up. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.