17 February, 2020

CRIES OF PLEASURE/GEMIDOS DE PLACER: Blu-ray Review by Robert Monell

It opens with the mute  houseboy Fenul (DP Juan Soler Cozar, whose feverish thoughts are voiced by the film's director, Jess Franco), playing what at first seems an easy listening afternoon sonata on an acoustic guitar, as the camera zooms back from a pleasure cruiser cutting across Alicante bay. The camera then zooms back further to an elevated view of the bay from the swimming pool patio. It then zooms into Fenul stringing the notes and ultimately down into the aquamarine pool water in which the recently murdered Antonio (Antonio Mayans) floats. Based on a story by the Marquis De Sade the credits over the image tell us. But adapted by Jess Franco for a daring stylistic experiment. Franco's models were obviously Touch of Evil by Orson Wellels and Hitchcock's extended-take murder mystery, Rope.

As usual in the films of Jess Franco sound and music is as important, possibly more so, than the the images he usual to illustrate his chronicles. One must always keep in mind that Franco has said that he considered himself to be a musician who made films. He worked in cinema because it offered more financial security than being a jazz musician. Just consider the fates of the musicians whose names he used to sign his films, short-lived jazz men Dave Tough and Clifford Brown. Franco was also an actor, both in his own and other's films, and his quivering voice here, representing the frenzied thoughts of Fenul, add a constant audio anxiety to the depraved proceedings.

Cut to the important fact here: The new SEVERIN 4K scan of this Jess Franco adaptation of Sade's sex and death game is absolutely stunning. It's like a gorgeous nightmare from which you can't awaken. Be bold. Do not hesitate to order. It's one of Franco's best films and now looks brand new. CRIES OF PLEASURE actually is from a Sade episode filmed at least twice before by the director, as a sequence in Franco's first Sade epic JUSTINE (1969) and in an expanded version as the 1979 SINFONIA EROTICA.

Below: A female predator (Rocio Freixas) moves toward a fateful encounter in Jess Franco's GEMIDOS DE PLACER (1982), "based on the writings by the Marquis de Sade." The impressive villa where the action is set was provided by the film's producer, Golden Films Internacional S.A. founder/CEO, Emilio Larraga. The villa is exotic in design, with a spiraling staircase, but it becomes more oppressive and claustrophobic as the film progresses.

Franco has said there are approximately 20 shots in this film, but I have counted over 30 at various times based on my viewings of the old Caliente Video from Million Dollar Video Corporation (cropped at 1.33:1) Spanish language VHS and this 2006 Spanish DVD. A later Spanish DVD version is part of the CINE EROTICO ESPANOL series- CLASIFICADA "S", licensed from VIDEO MERCURY FILMS S.A., Formato 4:3 [non-anamorphic, and it shows]; Mono; Multizona "0"; DVD5; approx. 83 min. Genero: Erotica; Boutique Multimedia S.l. Grupo Edider 88, S.L. there's even a Madrid ground mail, and this web address www.internacionaldersa88.com


"Una presumible orgia con un desenlace soprendenta" [or, as I said to Jess when we first met: "Lo siento, no hablo Espanol"]

Back copy: [Un liberal matrimonio quieren probar a realizar un trio sexual con una amiga de ambos. Pero en relaidad la utilizan para matarse el uno al otro con argucias y todo tipo de artimanas. El desenlace es sorpendente."]

Anyone who has seen it knows this is a hypnotic film, one of Franco's most personal and experimental works. It unfolds in flashback, narrated by mentally challenged guitar player, Fenul (DP Juan Soler Cozar, dubbed by Jess Franco himself). The extended takes suggest a link to Hitchcock's ROPE, also a story of murderers and their victims. The opening take, zooming slowly back from a yacht in Alicante Bay to pan over the villa, its swimming pool and a floating dead body (cf SUNSET BOULEVARD), is a tour de force.  A tale told by an idiot signifying the corruption of its four main characters, two of whom will die in paroxysms of sexual violence during the course of the film.

As pointed out above this opening immediately recalls the stunning plan sequence which opens Orson Welles' noir masterpiece TOUCH OF EVIL. The constantly probing camera here is as much of a character as the occupants of the villa. Like Hitchcock and Welles, the director wants to make us complicit in the following action, which is a study in casual amorality. The camera is always a voyeur in cinema, but Franco takes this concept to its absolute limit here. With very little dialogue and an overwhelmingly toxic ambiance, offset by Fenul's wandering guitar improvisations, the film becomes a kind of Sadean daydream ending in death, decay and a silent scream recorded from a final God's-eye camera angle.

As the mesmerizing instigator of the increasingly complex erotic games, Rocio Freixas, as the recently discharged mental patient Martina, emanates a powerful ambiguity which immerses the proceedings with a slow burning sense of danger. At any given moment she seems capable of anything and appears to exert a kind of mental control over the participants. She's also in two other impressive Jess Franco films from this period, EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF and BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO, both 1982 Golden Films Internacional Productions in need of HD upgrades. In all Franco filmed around a dozen of films in the busy year of 1982 for producer  Larraga, who left him alone to make the film he wanted in the way he wanted. "I had complete freedom," the director told me when I interviewed him in 2005, adding that what he didn't have was large budgets. This film, in particular makes up for the lack of big bucks with the elegant, expansive, abstract, beyond conventional time and space mise-en-scene.

One could write a book on this film alone and Franco author Stephen Thrower is on hand for two Special Features, In the Land of Franco Part 1, a tour through familiar Portuguese locations for such Franco films as A Virgin Among the Living Dead, and Jess Franco's Golden Years, a consideration of the unique Golden Films Internacional features he made during the 1980s. There's also a subtitled interview with Franco and Lina Romay conducted in 1993 by Filmmaker Donald Farmer, during which the couple discuss their relative anonymity in the Spanish film market and such subjects as budgets. Franco even singles out director Martin Campbell as a worthy contemporary film director!

Severin's 4K scan from the original negative reveals layers of light and color which make the dreamlike film even more rapturous. Presented in Spanish with English subtitles, the soundscape is as enveloping as the imagery.

CRIES OF PLEASURE is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Severin Films, who are also releasing another fascinating Franco film produced by Golden Films Internacional, the erotically charged spy thriller NIGHT OF OPEN SEX, which I hope to review here soon.

(C) Robert Monell, 2020.

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