14 February, 2024

LILIAN ( LA VERGEN PERVERTIDA) (Clifford Brawn/Jess Franco, 1983)

An image which sums up the hard-boiled dimension inhabited by Al Pereira (Antonio Mayans). Cigarettes, a gun, a few drinks, suggesting a minimalist pattern of a gritty life and a story which ends with Al executing the club owner (Emilio Linder) who drugged, raped, and turned out Lilian (Katja Bienert). In the opening scene of this neo-noir the young, naive Lilian opens a door to the upscale villa in which she is staying and confronts a hardcore scene between Lina Romay and Jose Llamas. That perfectly sums up the issue with this project, which began as Clasificada "S" thriller which had to be upgraded/downgraded to a hardcore feature, necessitating the removal of some 20 minutes of the original's runtime (84m). The reason was a Spanish law which had been suddenly imposed restricting the showing of "S" product in Adult houses. Jess Franco had to scramble and add this footage since his film would not be playable in more mainstream locations. I assume the film did reasonably well, probably due to those grudgingly added hardcore scenes, and may disappoint those who look for something more than another Franco hardcore. LILIAN... tells the downbeat story of a young woman (Katja Bienert) who collapses while staggering though a desert-like area. She has been drugged, held prisoner and forced to be the abused party in an S&M show staged for the edification of the local police official (Daniel J. White) who is supposed to be leading investigations. Instead he takes detective Al Pereira off the case when he gets too close to the truth.
Al has discovered the comatose Lilian, who recounts her terror in a delirium at the residence of retired cop and friend Bernardo (Jess Franco), who counsels Al to forget it. He doesn't. Corruption is endemic here as in LES EBRANLEES (1972) and BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO (Golden Films Internacional, 1982), two very similar Al Pereira episodes. As in those films, Al Pereira  is depicted as a hotheaded, high minded loser who will ultimately trigger his own exile from the human race. The villains, the drug lord (Emilio Linder) and his wife (Lina Romay). who fetches him party girls and druggies at her nightclub, are oh-so-chic, part of the local glitter scene. Franco shoots this as a 1980s Film Noir, a virtual encyclopedia of noir references and visual quotes. Using long takes and wide angle lenses in the style of Sam Fuller (UNDERWORLD USA) and Robert Aldrich (KISS ME, DEADLY), but also incorporating his personal favorites THE KILLERS (Robert Siodmak version) and Howard Hawks' THE BIG SLEEP in the flashback structure of the former and the opening credits of the latter, which are recreated in the penultimate scene when the camera lingers on a pack of cigarettes (American, of course), two whiskey glasses and a pistol on a table. The drug lord had just been sitting there having a drink when Al Pereira burst in and summarily executed him, Dirty Harry style. Al leaves his pistol as a calling card, knowing the police will trace it to him. Then he quickly hops into his car and drives away into a future life of assured damnation. One evil bastard is done away with, but the corporate  evil of the big combo will continue under the averted attention of the corrupt police official. And the principled avenger and seeker of justice Al Pereira will suffer the punishments of our sinful, fallen world. The film has a brutal, nihilistic tone which is mediated by one of Daniel J. White's most breathtaking scores, incorporating a kind of funk theme and an ethereal line. Some of these cues can also be heard in the director's 1985 Jungle adventure, L'ESCLAVA BLANCA, a Manacoa production. If one can forgive or fast forward the hardcore scenes there's a good film in there. Franco and Antonio Mayans are superb as the world weary receivers of Lilian's sad story. This element of delirious confession to authority figures evokes EUGENIE DE SADE (1970) and Sade's theater piece, DIALOGUE BETWEEN A PRIEST AND A DYING MAN (1782). The Spanish "kiosk" DVD version was screened for this review. It has very good video quality, sharp and colorful with acceptable Spanish only audio.  This version lasts approximately 73 minutes. We're left with a moral vacuum, set in the glitter scene, which is made into a sexual hell by the insertion of much routine hardcore footage, taking advantage of Spain's newly liberalized censorship. With strong performances by Lina Romay, Jess Franco as the retired cop and frequent Franco composer-actor Daniel J White as the corrupt police official. The opening escape by the delirious heroine staggering across a beach is indicative of Franco's ability to throw the viewer into a scene's atmosphere quickly, efficiently and without any dialogue or context. This was released on Spanish VHS before appearing as a "kiosk" DVD. Filmed on locations in Madrid and Huelva.

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