Venus in Furs (Jess Franco / United Kingdom-West Germany-Italy, 1969):
(Paroxismus; Black Angel)

The rich joke is on art-house philistinism -- hell, the screenplay could have been Pauline Kael’s review of Last Year at Marienbad, shot verbatim. Silhouetted hands knocking on glass panes (the camera lens?) are bracketing images; the string of parodical symbolism kicks off with the jazz trumpeter (James Darren) unearthing his cornet on a beachfront ("Musicians will understand") and summoning a dead siren with his melancholy tooting. The naked, mauled corpse belongs to the beauty (Maria Rohm) the hero once saw in Istanbul: "Was it last week... last month... or last year? Man, I tell you, time is like the ocean..." The tableau of unblinking bourgeois ghouls presents a playboy (Klaus Kinski), an art dealer (Dennis Price) and a fashion photographer (Margaret Lee) as the ravishers, Darren witnesses the vampiristic orgy and decides to trade Byzantine decadence for Rio’s carnival fervor. Rohm comes to town as a luscious apparition, bare under her mink coat and ready for revenge. "How can you run from a dead person unless you’re dead yourself," the musician muses, underlining the film’s Ulmer-like sense of irrational helplessness. Jess Franco pivots this burlesque on Vertigo's deathly-muse-vs.-earthbound-confidante schism, deranged into his own heady welter of dissolving spaces, hypnosis, death and resurrection. The eternal feminine, the pull of death, blurry zooms and tinted screens; Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror is a recurring point of reference, a turbaned Kisnki in his harem is a nod to late-period Lang. Can demonic lust be part of the "normal woman," Balzac wonders of the Succubus. Franco salutes the possibility, Barbara McNair sings it: "Venus in furs will be smiling..." With Adolfo Lastretti, and Paul Muller.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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