05 June, 2012

LE COMTESSE PERVERSE: A Jess Franco & Mondo Macabro Masterpiece

If a DVD presentation can be termed a masterpiece that the new MONDO MACABRO DVD of Jess Franco's LE COMTESSE PERVERSE (1973) deserves that title simply because it presents this previously unavailable version in HD video and sound quality that allows those, like myself, who've seen alternate versions many times for many years, to see what the director envisioned with new eyes. It's also highly recommended for those who have recently discovered the fascinating enigma which is Jess Franco. Every color sings its own song (just compare the blue of the sky and the blue of the ocean during the boat trips to the island of Countess Zaroff) and the image is suffused with a glorious luminosity which showed me detail I had missed for over decades.

Leaving on the cutting room floor the humorous wraparound, which Robert De Nesle forced the director to shoot  for a re release a year after the film was made, the film now opens and ends with rhyming images of optically enhanced voyeurism, visual quotation marks: now the very first image presents Bob (Robert Woods) peering through binoculars toward the coast in search of female prey to bring to the decadents whom employ him. The very last image is a close up of Count Zaroff (Howard Vernon) looking intently through his expensive designer glasses at his next meal, his dead wife. From the camera angle in both cases we get the uncomfortable sense that these gazes are also taking the viewer into their field, implicating us in the cycle of cannibal desire and breaking the traditional "fourth wall" of cinema. Earlier versions obscured this effect by having it brush up against "comedy" scenes and letting us off the hook. Franco didn't want to do that. He never does. He wanted to consider our expectations and responsibilities as viewers of exploitation cinema. Now his original agenda speaks for itself. That's just one of numerous examples how this presentation gives us new meanings and ways to watch and enjoy the film. 

Then there's the sophisticated dialogue, spiked with gallows humor and subtle irony which the new translation ably and finally captures. Fan subbed variants and cult movie mail order subtitles of the past, and I've seen them all, will now be history. And rightfully so. As Count Zaroff says, "Reject nothing that gives pleasure." A line which neatly encapsulates the Sadean undercurrent of the proceedings. Shortly after the Count considers the prone figure of Silvia (Lina Romay), who has just passed out in terror after witnessing the Zaroff's attempted mutilation of a recent victim, and exclaims "She's dim, but she's certainly juicy!" in joyous anticipation of a coming cannibal feast. It's a lol line. 

I'm really glad all the hardcore is gone, the stuff added by Franco and others (avoid the Italian SEXY NATURE version like the plague!) as well as the soft core doubling. Franco's original has all the eroticism, transgression and nudity it needs. There's surprisingly little actual blood and gore on display, unlike the disgusting slow motion gut chomping of Franco's later CANNIBALS and SEXO CANIBAL (both 1980). It's not missed. The cannibalism here tilts toward the metaphorical rather than literal.

Given how the original version comments on class inequity and how the owning class uses the middle class (Bob and Moira) to use up/devour/exploit/eat the underclass, Franco's vision is more relevant than ever. It doesn't preach its theme but gives it a gentle, droll nudge here and there. So, thank you Jess Franco and thank you Mondo Macabro for finally giving us the masterpiece Jess Franco made almost 40 years ago.

Thanks to Eric Cotenas. 

(C) Robert Monell 2012


Glenn said...

God bless Mondo Macabro. I am shivering in anticipation of this: if it's half as good as Mr. Tombs' other Franco relaeases it will be a sight for sore eyes.

scott said...

After reading your review, I'm looking even more forward to getting this - hope it arrives by next week.