Antonio Mayans plays Mendoza, the patriarch of his small family and an Argentinean actor living in exile on a remote island off of the coast of Spain. The Mendoza family are the sole occupants of said isle whose other members are Desdemona (Lina Romay in her Candy Coster guise), Mendoza’s eighteen-year-old daughter, Dulcinea (Carmen Carrión), Mendoza’s lover, and Poulova (Susana Kerr), the youngest daughter, who is also simple-minded. Their family dynamic has reached critical mass: Mendoza has become disassociated—he is desperately trying to remember his past and revel in his former glory; but his past is a distant memory: for all he knows, Mendoza is creating memories rather than re-living them. Desdemona really, really wants to fuck. In an early scene of La Casa, scantily-clad Desdemona lays upon her bed in full view of her father, attempting sensual poses every time that he looks up from his magazine. Dulcinea has become bored with this isolated and repetitious lifestyle, especially since Mendoza refuses or physically cannot make love to her anymore. Poor Poulova is nothing more than a small child in a grown woman’s body. As she requires the same care as a newborn infant, the remaining family members bicker over who is to care for her, as none seem particular eager to do so. One day a handsome young hunter (Tony Skios) arrives on the island for a little poaching and becomes the catalyst causing the Mendoza family to implode.
The sole criticism of La Casa de las Mujeres Perdidas in the essential Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco is a quote from Franco:
“La Casa de las Mujeres Perdidas is not a horror film, but it’s a very bizarre film, a story of manners—bad manners! It looks like Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, yet it’s totally different. It mostly concerns la petite bourgeoisie” (J. Franco, Madrid, 1986). (*)
Buñuel, Pasolini, and Jean Renoir, for example, all had fun at the expense of the boo-gee—exposing their values and then creating the characters’ downfall, because of them. There is no reason that Jess Franco is not entitled to their same artistic license. La Casa de las Mujeres Perdidas is really essential Franco: it is poetic, sensuous, and provocative while also being playful, progressive, and above all, very dirty. It is a film made in post-Franco Spain, where Lina Romay spends almost the entire time butt-naked, seemingly because she can. In a representative sequence, Desdemona sits in a rocking chair and eats an orange. She is also watching what I assume to be an episode of Dallas (as the dialogue reveals characters such as J.R. and Sue Ellen). Franco’s camera never leaves a tight composition upon Romay. She begins enjoying her orange, letting the juice drip upon her body, eventually playing with a slice of orange in a very discreet area of her body. (She enjoys the same playfulness with a cigarette in an earlier scene.) I cannot help but to find this scene funny: the privilege of masturbating to an episode of Dallas is now available; or one can now masturbate while watching Romay masturbate to an episode of Dallas. I think that I have exceeded my quota with the word masturbate for now. Time to move on.
Franco exposes the characters’ self-centeredness and self-importance in La Casa. Dulcinea is the recipient of an unfulfilled promise: here she is on a supposed idyllic island with a famous actor: Mendoza is self-absorbed and impotent, and Dulcinea is little more than a caretaker for the family, despite not being the mother of the two daughters. She creates her own fun by blackmailing Desdemona into fucking her in exchange for her silence to her father about her chronic masturbating. When she encounters the hunter in the living room late in the evening, Dulcinea is not reticent to seduce him. When she catches Mendoza spying on the couple, Dulcinea shames him for his lack of virility. It is the crushing blow for Mendoza—he realizes that his reality is a created one.
La Casa de las Mujeres Perdidas has some beautiful photography from Juan Soler and the music by Daniel J. White is quite enchanting. All the performances are good. My favorite scenes are of Romay waxing poetic by the seashore or looking above from the veranda at the passing airplanes. Her voice-over narration speaks of a desire for freedom and melancholy for each passing day. These soliloquies are very sensitive and well done by Franco. La Casa is a unique, disorienting film well worth seeking out by fans of Franco.
* Ed. Lucas Balbo & Peter Blumenstock. Graf Haufen and Frank Trebbin Publishing. Germany. 1993: p. 153.