Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
Original Title: Le vice et la vertu
France/Italy, 1963. S.N.E. Gaumont, Trianon Films, Ultra Film. Screenplay by Roger Vailland, Roger Vadim, collaboration with Claude Choublier, based on the novel Justine by the Marquis de Sade. Cinematography by Marcel Grignon. Produced by Roger Vadim. Music by Michel Magne. Production Design by Jean Andre. Costume Design by Marc Doelnitz. Film Editing by Victoria Mercanton.
Roger Vadim adapts the Marquis de Sade’s Justine to a World War II setting in this tale of two sisters whose opposite natures are represented by the title. Annie Girardot is the collaborationist who is mistress of a German colonel, Catherine Deneuve (just shy of her international breakthrough the next year in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) is about to marry a member of the resistance. When her husband-to-be is arrested on the steps of the church where their wedding is to take place, Deneuve pleads with her estranged sister to help save her man, but instead gets herself carted off to a secret Nazi lair where Robert Hossein plans military maneuvers while enjoying a harem of women dressed in ancient Roman garb. Vadim’s equating Sade’s sadomasochistic fantasies with the horrors of the second World War is something Pasolini would later repeat in the much more explicit Salo, and while they both do a good enough job of making their analogies work, they do seem to miss a fundamental aspect of the revolutionary French philosopher’s work that made his writing so vibrant: Sade posits the provocative notion that being sexually degraded is the path to a kind of personal liberation and rebirth, which is not something you can say about your country being occupied by an invading force or your government embracing fascism. Still, the relative control that Vadim shows in presenting so explosive a plot without overindulging in graphic imagery makes for a classy and gorgeous drama that bandies about a lot of interesting ideas before an incredibly good closing sequence. The two main characters don’t go too far beyond the extremes of feminine archetypes that they’re set up to express, but Vadim presents them with a great deal of humour and, with such detailed and charismatic actresses in the roles, they manage to make their mark as fully developed human beings.