Not to be confused with Jess Franco's take on the same novel (1969's Justine starring Maria Rohm in the title role), Claude Pierson's 1972 adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's Justine is a pretty blunt take on the author's most famous work that eschews cerebral stimulation on favor of a more exploitative kind.
Justine (Alice Arno of Franco's The Perverse Countess and who would play the role a second time in 1975 for another Franco de Sade adaptation) was orphaned at a young age and had a very difficult life as both a child and a young woman. After her sister is taken from her she changes her name to Therese and heads out into the world to see what it can offer her. Pure as the virgin snow when she heads out on her own, she soon finds that the rest of society doesn't value her chastity in the same way that she does and before you know it she's run into a group of young men, some of whom sic dogs on her naked body (!), that takes advantage of her.
From there, she becomes involved with a doctor with a penchant for the lash, before hoping to find some solitude and peace in a monetary. Of course, even a man of the cloth can have trouble fighting off his anatomical urges, and they prove to be just as lustful as the rest of the men who she's encountered on her journey, if not considerably more so! These monks are into some pretty kinky ways of serving the Lord, and they're only too happy to introduce Therese into their stable of buxom young women. The more Therese experiences, the more her willpower seems to erode, leaving us wondering just how far she'll go...
Filled to the brim with nudity and not at all short on bondage, group sex, paddling, whipping, flogging, slapping, bizarre sacrilege, rape and various forms of kinky copulation, Justine de Sade is a pretty trashy affair but it's certainly been shot with care and no small amount of lush style. The French locations used for the picture gives this base exploitation film an air of classiness that period story well and which lends the whole ordeal some credibility.
While the sex is certainly copious and graphic, it never quite passes into hardcore territory - it comes damn close in spots, but it always stops just shy of actual penetration helping the film feel less pornographic than just unusually artsy. The cinematography captures plenty of detail in terms of the ornate backgrounds in the locations and in the features of the performers themselves. Speaking of which, Alice Arno is quite good in the lead role. If she doesn't look quite innocent enough, she's fairly close and there's certainly no denying her physical attractiveness or her screen presence.
At one hundred and fifteen minutes in length the movie is a little slow in spots and the bouncing back and fourth between Justine's past and her recounting of the story is at times unnecessary and it feels like padding. That said, the ending works and the performances are solid. The visuals are often striking and always stylish and the cast of attractive and frequently naked European ladies ensures that there's always some eye candy to enjoy even if you find your brain starting to nap in spots. Director Claude Pierson seems to have treated the novel upon which he's based his film with some sincere respect and the movie does adopt the work quite literally, meaning that the gratuitousness and perverted nature of many of the scenes is required to a certain extent. All in all, Justine de Sade is a pretty effective take on one of the Marquis' more notorious efforts.
Aside from a few moments where the picture is just a bit on the soft side (common with European films of this nature and from this time frame), Justine de Sade looks quite good on its NTSC DVD debut. Color reproduction, which plays an important part in the tone of the film and which really helps to set the mood in a few key scenes, looks nice and accurate while the black levels remain quite solid even if a bit of grain is obvious in some of the marginally darker scenes. Edge enhancement never seems overly problematic and there are no issues to report with mpeg compression artifacts. Print damage has been all but eliminated and only appears in the form of the odd speck here and there.
Audio options are provided in both French and English Dolby Digital Mono tracks with optional subtitles provided in English only. The French tracks plays considerably more seriously than the dubbed English mix but both mixes sound fairly close to one another as far as the quality goes. There are no problems to report with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced. The optional English subtitles are clean and clear and easy to read and don't contain any typographical errors. Some scenes in this uncut version of the movie were never dubbed into English and so when these appear, English subtitles automatically appear on screen.
Extras are slim on this disc but Blue Underground has supplied both the English language and French language theatrical trailers (both in anamorphic widescreen and with English subtitles provided for the French trailer) alongside an alternate clothed version of the group copulation scene and a deleted prologue scene (which ties the film into de Sade's novel quite literally and for which no audio was ever recorded). Neither would have really done too much to change the film but it's nice to see them included here. Menus and chapter stops are also provided.
Blue Underground gives Justine de Sade a very nice presentation in terms of audio and video quality, which makes the slim supplements a little more forgivable than they would be otherwise. Fans of seventies Eurotica and de Sade devotees should enjoy the film quite a bit and if you fall into either of those categories, or just happen to enjoy a good sleazy skin flick, you can consider this disc 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.