Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jess Franco's Sinner (1972)

"'If there is any message in my films,' says Franco, 'it's about the distance between people,' and Sinner is a field trip into seventies' alienation." (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995.)I've encountered quite a diversity of opinions in my research on Jess Franco's Sinner (1972). The authors of Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco write:

Drug movies were popular in America in the early 70s, but this attempt to adapt to the trend didn't hit its target and is no more than a tedious sexploiter. While The Trip and such like are still fun to watch for their hordes of hippies in bell-bottom pants their "hallucination" scenes, "Diary of a nymphomaniac" only had a few hippies dancing in a nightclub and a drug delirium scene in which Kali Hansa endlessly rolls on the floor to a stoned score. The real purpose of the film was a sort of disguised pleading for sexual liberation (totally out of date by today's standards)...It is hard to guess whether he [Franco?] really cared about his subject when one analyses the sterotyped situations and the obsessive voyeuristic angle of the camera. It is also worth remembering that this was made in 1972, one of Franco's most prolific years, in which he made at least nine films.

The authors of Immoral Tales write:

Sinner is one of those strange creations you can only find in the bargain basement of cinema. In lesser hands it would have no discernible style, no garish intonations to take it outside the usual cheap sex film limitations. If the film works, it's because it straddles a stack of opposites. On the one hand it's phony and kitsch. On the other it's heartfelt and serious. Like many of Franco's best films it oscillates, refusing to be tied down to categories, forming a riddle that attracts some and repulses others.
Despite its extremely low budget, Sinner is one of Franco's most even productions; it doesn't plunge from the heights of heady fantasy to the depths of sloppily lensed realism.

Finally, the authors of Bizarre Sinema: Jess Franco El Sexo del Horror write:

Without being discouraged by his new flop [Los ojos del Dr. Orloff (1972)], Franco went back to work with [Robert] de Nesle: after having confirmed Prous and Hansa and "dusting off" Libert and Vernon, he shot two French produced back-to-back movies in Alicante, Le journal intime d'une nymphomane (1972) and Les ebranlees (1972). Two examples of the purest soft-core genre, their final outcome is, curiously, antithetical. The first one is a big detective-erotic melodrama, whose complex and very interesting plot--inspired by the narrative structure of Citizen Kane (1940) by Welles and to the The Killers (1945) by Sidomak, incorporating (yet again!) several sadeian overtones--also features Montserrat Prous' best interpretation (sometimes sensual, sometimes sweet, yet always effective) and a memorable ostentation of scabrous sex on the part of Kali Hansa, confirming her bent for lesbianism, already hinted at in her roles for Manacoa...

While all three pieces of criticism have merit, I find the criticism by the Immoral Tales authors the most persuasive. Perhaps Franco's statement quoted above says more than all (it's context completely unknown to me). Sinner is both totally unreal and real.
Linda (Montserrat Prous) comes from the country to the big city where at a carnival, with her suitcase in hand, she meets an older gentleman who rapes her on the ferris wheel. Linda gets a job with a laundry delivery service and while making her rounds she spies one of her customers, the Countess Anna De Monterey (Anne Libert) having sex with a suitor. The Countess is either curious or taken with young Linda and houses her, eventually having a romantic relationship with her. Eventually, Linda opens up socially and begins a relationship with a man and also with nightclub dancer, Maria (Kali Hansa). Her relationship with Maria causes a rift with her and the Countess, and Linda leaves the Countess's villa. With Maria, Linda gets a fast-track course on both sex and drugs. Linda is eventually arrested and released. A doctor (Howard Vernon) doesn't think Linda is a drug addict and can recover, so he houses her in order to give her treatment. Like all of Linda's relationships within Sinner, it ends badly. The opening sequence of the film is Linda's last day.

While the English-language title is more sensational, perhaps the French title, Le journal intime d'une nymphomane is slightly more appropriate, as it hints towards both the film's narrative structure and perhaps a deeper psychology working within the film. I have little to no formal training in sociology and psychology and the like, so I will not be speculating as to the film's genuineness towards its depiction of Linda's life. However, a meticulous detail is given to Linda's relationships within Sinner, and they are focal. The narrative structure is a mystery through the eyes of Rosa Ortiz (Jacqueline Laurent) and revealing who she is would be a serious spoiler. However, the story moves backwards through Rosa's discovery through her meeting with the police, with the Countess, and eventually with Maria who holds Linda's diary where her secrets are held.
Despite any psychological underpinnings and attempts at social realism, Franco creates images, and Sinner is Franco mixing the subjective and the objective shot: what is real and not real flickers with the frame, so whatever is shown is totally unreliable from a narrative standpoint in terms of visual storytelling. For example, the visual rendition of Linda's trip to the carnival, where she meets the older gentleman who rapes her, is far from sensitive. Prous's Linda is dressed like a literal doll at a child's tea party with pigtails and a short dress with frills and bobby socks (intimating that wherever she came from into the city was off of the pages of a fairy tale book rather than an actual place). The creepy older gentleman buys her pink cotton candy, and Linda, childlike, takes in the carnival atmosphere. Perhaps this is Franco rendering Linda's point-of-view, childlike and innocent for the viewer. The sequence is shot like a dream with wide angles and swooping zooms and disorienting editing.

The opening sequence of Sinner is perhaps the most "objective" since its quintessential Franco: a nightclub scene with a sex floor show with every one's eyes (including the viewer) glued to the action. Linda's first appearance is here (as is also Maria's) and when the viewer first sees her, she looks as sophisticated as her surroundings. What she begins to do and how she operates are revealed in this opening sequence as extremely meticulous and thought out--a plan perfectly executed.
Then the viewer gets to meet the storytellers within Sinner: Libert's Countess, Hansa's Maria, and even Linda, herself, through her diary. It is really only after a second viewing of Sinner do their motives become more obvious (as each is revealed to be extremely self-absorbed); and what each tells to Rosa reflects more about them than anyone. So what about poor Linda? I think that's Franco's point (emphasizing more so his quote at the beginning of this entry). There are scenes which feel very real, especially Linda's scenes with Maria. Then there are other scenes which feel too tabloid and sensational to be taken seriously. That's just Franco I suppose being playful (and sometimes playfully profound) with the sensitive and the sensational, creating another Franco experience.


Alex Bakshaev said...

Beginning to wonder where you keep diging up these really off-the beaten track Francos from:)
Any reviews from the De Nesle period will always be greatly appreciated

Neil Fulwood said...

Another intriguing review. I like the way you started by comparing those three very different takes on the film, then found your own appreciation/analysis of it.

Out of interest: how many Franco films have you reviewed on Quiet Cool now? You must have got through a fair chunk of his filmography, even for such a prolific director.

Hans A. said...


I love the De Nesle/Franco period so I'll probably be doing more in the future. I must have seen the Franco "classics" when I discovered his work years ago. I think I've seen a hundred of his films now. Thnx for your comments and your visits. I always appreciate it and I've enjoyed reading your blog, also, recently. You've written some great stuff, and I'm just getting to your archives. Keep up the great work.


I think the count is twelve now.:)

As much as I love watching films and writing about them, I also love reading about them. There's a lot of great stuff in print. I always appreciate it when you visit and take time to leave your comments. Your dual reviews this week with Aaron have been fun and I really enjoyed your T2 review. I wish I had more time!

MondoMacabro HQ said...

Here at Mondo Macabro HQ we've finally got our De Nesle period Franco movies to release - SINNER being one of them and is out on DVD now....