Friday, July 13, 2012

Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac

Original title: Le journal intime d’une nymphomane
Directed by: Jess Franco
France: 1973
Drama/sleaze/thriller, 87min
Distributed by: Mondo Macabro

What a wonderfully lurid little title this is, seductive, enticing, captivating and damn right enchanting. Part of their great re-mastered Jess Franco releases, Sinner is yet another, first on DVD, from Mondo Macabro. Watching it once again reminds me of the brilliance of Franco, and why he deserved every ounce of that Goya Lifetime Achievement Award he was presented with a few years back.

It’s recently become that I find myself laughing along with each Franco release that comes out on DVD. Because every damned Franco release has the obligatory “One of his finest/best/weirdest/etc". quotes on the front. It’s funny because it’s always true! Every damned movie one sits down to watch has that Franco magic that just pulls you in and has you happily going along for the ride, and buying into whatever territory he want’s to take you to. No wonder the damned Franco DVD’s are something of Pokémon’s in the eyes of his enthusiastic followers, you simply can’t stop until you have them all.
Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac is the exquisite tale of a young woman’s decent into cesspool of sexual depravity, and the series of events that force her to take a drastic exit from this world… after first taking her cunning revenge on the men who shaped her.
Without wasting time, the opening shot establishes that familiar Franco territory, the act/show being performed on stage for an enticed audience in a nightclub. Linda Vargas [Montserrat Prous] is performing with Maria Toledano [Kali Hansa] on stage whist the audience sip champagne and cocktails.  Where many Franco stage performances are revealed to be acts, the tables are changed here and what follows the performance is instead an act of sinister vengance. Linda joins one man in the audience, Mr Ortiz [Manuel Pereiro], entices him into buying bottle after bottle of champagne – making up a grand total of ten bottles, before they drunkenly leave the sleazy parlour and move to a seedy hotel room instead – another rather frequent Franco location. They start making out, but he passes out, and where one would expect Franco to go one path, he takes a completely different one, as Linda calls the cops, reports the murder of a young woman, and then slits her throat. As she lies bleeding to death on top of Mr Ortiz the cops bust in the door and arrest Mr Ortiz… ok, they blatantly walk in as if in a Monty Python Piranha Bros sketch, which bit actors portraying police often do in Franco flicks. It’s a grand set up, it comes completely unexpected and Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac has its hooks deep into me at this point. I’m ready for the journey and desperately want to know how Franco is going to play this one.
 A brief cameo by Franco as Inspector Hernandez later, and the ball is upp and running. Mr Ortiz claims his innocence and his wife Mrs Ortiz [Jacqueline Laurent, who later ended up in several Torgny Wickman skin flicks!] refuses to believe the outlandish claims that her loving husband has murdered some two-bit prostitute. She takes it upon herself to pursue the truth, and make justice for her husband. This is a superb designation of the characters arc, which will change severely as the film progresses.
This is where the novelty of Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac turns up, the search for the truth, becomes a post-mortem telling of Linda’s life. Mrs Ortiz goes to Countess Del Anna Monterey, who starts retelling how she met Linda, and the story is set in motion. I love the fact that it’s told in a non-linear fashion, it strikes me that several Franco pieces are done in this way. Linda moves to the big city where she quickly falls prey to sexual predators, Mr Ortiz being the first to violate her fragile tender frame.
There’s a great tone of guerrilla filmmaking throughout Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac, definitely in the vain of the filmmakers whom Franco sought inspiration from, as he’s got Gérard Brisseau roaming around locations armed with his hand held camera as if it where a documentary shoot.  The funfair segment early on in the movie feels like a genuine piece of grabbing the moment, and the curious stares towards the camera sum it up with their “what the hell’s going on here” glances. It’s also a key scene to the movie, which lingers on for two long, is remarkably subjective for a Franco film, and provides the moment of corruption that will take Linda from childhood innocence into curious female sexuality when Mr Ortiz spoils her by buying cotton candy and the molesting her on the Ferris wheel.
Hence becomes Linda’s hatred of mankind, which leads her into her lesbian relationship with the Countess, but soon the Countess isn’t enough and Linda starts being intimate with everyone she set’s her sights on, especially men forbidden through marriage, making each promise of togetherness be merely words with no meaning. Linda searches on and meet’s raunchy exotic dancer/amateur photo model Maria Toledano, whom she falls for instantly. Her relationship with Maria leads to her participating in photo shoots, forcefully drawn into pornographic photo sessions, which in turn leads to drugs to numb the pain. The otherwise stone cold Mrs Ortiz starts to see that there’s more to this young girl than just being a dead prostitute.
So far, the story has been told to Rosa Ortiz by the Countess, now focus shifts, and Rosa seeks out Toledano to learn more about the young woman who’s death is pinned on her innocent husband. But at the same time this last act also reveals a lot more about Mrs Ortiz and the kind of conservative woman she actually is. Her meeting with Maria Toledano is awkward, Rosa obviously feels out of place when Maria tears off her clothes proclaiming that she hates wearing clothes.  A stern contrast to Mrs Ortiz, who hasn’t even seen herself without her clothes on and only makes love to Mr Ortiz with the lights out, says a lot about her, and perhaps why Mr Ortiz was running around after hookers.
Maria progresses to tell Mrs Ortiz about Linda, and it’s revealed that Maria has in her possession the journal of Linda. Now the insight is right from the heart and soul of Linda as the two women read the entries painfully jotted down by Linda. These pages tell Linda’s childhood, why she left the countryside and came to the big city, how her life changes as she encounters men who only want to use her as a sexual plaything, and also of how she narrowly escapes a jail sentence for drug offences due to a kind-hearted doctor who takes her in, in an attempt to cure her and set her back on the right track. This Doctor is played by Franco backbone, Howard Vernon. Despite Linda basically begging the good Doctor to shag her, he resists, and instead of looking at her as a piece of meat, he treats her with respect and gives back her value as a woman. But old habits die hard, and after a late night out, smoking dope, making out with men and women, Linda is confronted by the good Doctor who screams out that she’s betrayed his trust, and there for he will treat her as the nymphomaniac she is. This is the climax experience that leaves her in despair, when she later performs on stage with Maria Toledano she spots Mr Ortiz in the crowd, and knows how she must seal her fate.
The ending images of the movie, show Rose Ortiz, not only discovering new sides to her own sexuality, but also coming to a painful insight, and by taking the journey she’s become empathetic towards Linda, with whom she now can relate to. By backtracking Linda’s tracks she metaphorically done the same journey, and she too can feel the betrayal by man, and directly through her husband. A ghostly voice pleading to her, awakening guilt in her, triggers her to take sides with her sister in pain, and she seals the fate of her husband there and then.
A brief analysis and storytelling resume would go like this: Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac is an exploitation gem that uses an Investigation plot to study the post-mortem character, Linda’s, degeneration. It also uses the insight that comes with the “investigation” to evoke empathy within the  “investigator” and affects her into a change of heart. The roles have altered; the victim and perpetrator have changed places. Poetic justice has been created and fates have been sealed.
Being another of the almost dozen films Franco wrote and directed in 1973, Sinner leaves no one disappointed. Again he’s working with Robert du Nesle‘s CFPC (Comptoir Français de Productions Cinématographiques) - who also produced Countess Perverse and Lorna the Exorcist –and all three edited by Gérard Kikoïne, back in Paris. The soundtrack is just a delightfully delirious as the one for Countess Perverse, although Jean-Bernard Retitaux is this time around teamed up with superstar, Vladimir Cosma. I’m still determined that someone release them as soon as possible, they are absolutely awesome, and actually surpass Hübler and Schwab’s pop-kitsch tracks for the German films.
Again, one is struck by the high quality of the production, smart use of simplistic plot and recurrent actors. It shines through when Franco is happy with his cast and crew, as there’s definitely soul in his output of this time. I’m curious to the fact if shooting hardcore films a few years later – as such was the novelty, and competing market of the time - didn’t artistically challenge filmmakers like Franco, Rollin etc. That’s not what they wanted to be shooting, and I’m certain that even they had fine ideas of where eroticism and porn cross, and how far they could go without crossing that line. Going beyond those boundaries must have affected ambition and passion for their trade, and I feel it shines through on those movies. The savvy that makes them shine is missing.
Unfortunately Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac also suffered the same fate as Countess Perverse and Lorna the Exorcist and was following it’s initial run, crammed packed with hardcore shots, given a new title and tossed out onto the porno circuit, something which is when given the original versions at hand an atrocity, as they have an original story and narrative to them. I could compare it to if someone fixed an obscenely large plaster cast knob to Venus de Milo, or breaking up the frame of Mona Lisa and adding a crudely sketched snatch to the painting. It’s apparent that Franco had a strong vision of the movies shot at this time (as I’m certain he had with the most of his films), and interweaving unsophisticated hardcore shots definitely wrecks that vision. Luckily for us, Mondo Macabro are presenting the movies in their intent versions, and I don’t really see the point in those German box sets with each of the variant versions, as any version other that the Franco one, isn’t a Franco movie!
Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac is basically a “countryside lass getting gobbled up by the sinister cogs of the big city” story, and it’s not really anything that we haven’t seen before in the sexploitation circuit. Films of the niche ranging from Hardcore 1979, Christiane F 1981, 8mm 1999, the cheap knockoffs, Hanna D, the girl from Vodel Park, 1984, Snuff Killer 2003 etc. have all been down that path. The big difference is found in the way Franco chooses his leading ladies. Franco’s movies could easily have been simple sleaze fests, but I’ve realized that a majority of his leading ladies have one thing in common, and it’s a vital ingredient to Franco’s films. Sinner was shot between the tragic death of Franco muse Soledad Miranda and before he firmly planted his lens on Lina Romay. I find Montserrat Prous, who starred in a half dozen films for Franco during this time period, to fit the formula perfectly. It’s all in the eyes! The movies where Soledad, or Lina, or Montserrat and so on, are the unfortunate victims, there eyes all contain a sadness, a depth, a vulnerability which makes the audience empathize with them. I also see this being the main reason why his later films totally miss the connection with the audience that these early works do, as they lack this vital ingredient. The vulnerable female muse that we are accustomed to seeing in Franco’s films. I’m absolutely determined that this is a vital part of the Franco formula! I even remember one drunken night back in the age of VHS calling up a mate and bemoaning how awfully rotten the antagonist was treating Lina Romay in one of the many Franco movies he'd duped for me.
Do yourself a favour, go out and pick up Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac today, as this is one splendid movie in the annals of Jess Franco, and I will always be captivated by the simple fact that this Spanish genius directed so many fantastic, and career wise, landmark movies in the year of 1973.

Oh, and don't forget to pick up the Jess Franco mixtape from the right side bar... one hour, fifteen minutes of delightful Franco soundtrack in one nonstop mix, and you can challenge yourself to naming the scores and the soundbites... Enjoy!


Ninja Dixon said...

Once again, Mr J, you've gotten me to lust for Franco. Still need to all three of MM's latest Franco-releases.

Great review!

CiNEZiLLA said...

Cheer's mate! You really should get them. They are completely awesome. :D

Alex B. said...

that's a great enthusiastic review!

Drew Grimm Van Ess said...

Great review! This really got me wanting to watch that. I'm going to look into it.

Awesome blog going here.

Swing by my page

CiNEZiLLA said...

Thanx Alex. It's always a perk to hear you like stuff written on "the man".

Grimm. Cheers' mate. Nice site, I'll bring it onto the bloggroll here and hopefully it'll shift some readers your direction!


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