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Immoral Women (1978)

With their awesome powers combined, three short films form Immoral Women, a provocative and baffling film that provides audiences with the following insights into feminine psychology:

  1. Women will murder men for fun and profit.
  2. Women will murder their parents and servants as a symbol of their sexual maturation.
  3. Women will allow their huge pet dogs to chew off the tender vittles of any man, be it a kidnapper or husband, and will watch with apathy as the pain forces them to roll into an awkward jump cut that lands them in a river, where they drown.

Good times all around in Immoral Women, now available on DVD!

The first and third stories are largely a waste of time, both in terms of erotica and in terms of cinema. Though the “immoral women” featured in them (Marina Pierro and Pascale Christophe) are attractive, each section gets too bogged down in their stories to be erotic. This would be fine if not for the fact that each story manages the impossible feat of being both incoherent and plodding. The only entertainment derived from “Marie,” the third story, is the bizarrely inappropriate Kraftwerk-esque theme music assigned to Marie’s dog. “Margherita,” the first story, tries to pad its runtime with awkward papal satire, even more awkward physical comedy, and an attempt at “art” by showing the way Margherita inspired Raphael Sanzio’s later works. This would be a great sentiment if not for the fact that in the end, she poisons him to steal his money to share with her real lover. She also murders a banker. But hey, at least she’s not Marie’s dog, who has an affinity for biting off men’s penises for no coherent story reason (okay, okay, the kidnapper deserved it—but why the husband?).

On the other hand, the middle story, “Marceline,” tells one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever seen. Unlike the other two stories in Immoral Women, this one reaches heights of complexity and dramatic intensity that make it almost brilliant. Too bad the subject matter is so vile and twisted it’s hard to recommend in any form.

Marceline (Gaëlle Legrand) is a childish teenager (it’s never said, but I think we’re supposed to believe she’s 15 or 16) in 19th-century France. She spends the bulk of her time with a pet rabbit. This rabbit… How do I put this politely? She has trained him to lick her where it counts, and they maintain an alarming “secret” relationship until Marceline’s parents decide it’s time for her to grow up. Their servant/cook kills the rabbit, cooks it in a stew, and they all tell Marceline it’s lamb. After Marceline has made a big meal of it and expressed how much she enjoyed the lamb stew, her father explains the manner in which they’ve traumatized her (clearly not the first trauma Marceline has faced).

Horrified, Marceline runs away to the slaughterhouse from which the family gets most of their meat. I’m not sure why. I guess so she can run into a delivery boy who felt up Marceline at the beginning of the story. She asks to see the living lambs, so he takes her to their pen…and then rapes her. Viewers know a sex scene is coming (no pun intended), but anyone who thought it would be a horrifying, intense, suspiciously well-acted rape scene—seek help. Afterward, the delivery boy thinks he’s accidentally killed Marceline; there’s virginal blood everywhere, and Marceline has fallen asleep. The delivery boy tries to hang himself, then begs for help when Marceline awakens; instead of helping, she lets him die, then goes back home to kill her parents, framing the delivery boy for the crime.

This is 1970s European erotica, a relic of a bygone era where pornography had story, character, and halfway decent (in some cases exceptional) acting. Sadly, this era has passed mostly because the stories are half-assed (in more ways than one!) and incoherent, the characters usually have one trait (“lustful”), and they usually become so focused on a story few viewers care about that there’s little time left to be erotic.

One thing that makes the “Marceline” section so special is that nothing about it is remotely erotic—it’s very sexual and contains excessive nudity, but it’ll leave you more nauseous than aroused—and yet it tells a focused story with well-drawn characters. Disturbing as hell, yes, but it’s using the “advantages” of erotica—excessive nudity and an ability to unflinchingly portray bestiality and rape—to underscore its story, rather than tossing in some T&A for the hell of it.

Perhaps the biggest complaint of these three stories is that two of the three of these “immoral” women are victims; in fact, aside from lying idly by while her dog chewed off her husband’s johnson, Marie is a victim for every frame of her story. It’s never made clear why she allows herself to be repetitively victimized, and while it sort of makes sense that she’d be happy that her kidnapper/rapist and oppressive husband are disposed of by her loving dog, Marie herself doesn’t take the “immoral” action. Meanwhile, Marceline is a victim first of abusive parents, then of a terrorizing rapist of a delivery boy. Does it justify triple-homicide and accessory-after-the-fact to a suicide? One of the reasons “Marceline” stands out is that a case could be made to justify either side of that argument.

The only character who isn’t a victim is Margherita, the sultry and unpleasant minx who seduces and then murders two men for money. We never find out what motivates her, other than pure greed, which perhaps is enough. A more accurate title is Immoral Woman Plus Two Victims of Horrific Misogyny.

If you want a movie to disturb you without remotely arousing you (despite what the back of the DVD box suggests), at least look at the “Marceline” section. The other two aren’t really worth the time. Hell, “Marceline” will give you nightmares if you have any decency. Happy viewing!

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