Saturday, January 15, 2022

Justine and the Whip (1979)

Around the late ‘70s, Joe D’Amato got his paws on three Jess Franco films and, with editing help from Bruno Mattei, combined separate footage from each film into a single film called Justine and the Whip, starring Lina Romay, with Alice Arno receiving top billing. The dialogue from the original films was changed and redubbed in Italian, and the soundtrack was reworked. 

The reasons for why a patchwork movie like Justine and the Whip exists aren’t clear. Some have said that it was because D’Amato was salvaging an unfinished film from Franco that was originally intended to be another version of De Sade’s Justine. But I read in Stephen Thrower’s The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco: Volume Two that the original film was called Julietta 69 and was completed and actually had a 1976 French cinema release before becoming inaccessible.* It’s speculated that Jess Franco sold Julietta 69 to an Italian production company, and D’Amato and Mattei were eventually commissioned by Franco Gaudenzi to make the mashup Justine and the Whip. Thrower also points out that D’Amato claimed in an interview from Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut (1999) that they were trying to make Franco’s films more “usable”,* but the result here is an incoherent mess that seems quite unusable, at least by comparison to what the completed Julietta 69 must have been like. Maybe by “usable” D’Amato meant more commercially appealing for the time by possibly increasing the number and frequency of love scenes in the film.


Before I heard of Justine and the Whip, I was already a fan of two of the original films, so normally I would frown on a production company taking liberties with an artist’s work like this. But this is just such an interesting curiosity, as its fabrication was supervised by another favorite filmmaker of mine (D’Amato), most of the original music is replaced by a nice selection of familiar Nico Fidenco tracks that were also used in the Black Emanuelle films with Laura Gemser, it features a hefty amount of footage from a highly elusive Jess Franco film (Julietta 69), the title suggests a Marquis de Sade connection, and most bizarre of all, the ‘70s erotic queen Alice Arno is not even in the movie, despite receiving top-billing. So much to unpack here…

The footage that was used to assemble Justine and the Whip came from Shining Sex (1976), Midnight Party (1976), and the virtually unseen Julietta 69 (all three films star Lina Romay in the lead role). Shining Sex is like a glittery Sci-Fi version of Female Vampire (1973), and Midnight Party is a masterpiece and one of Lina Romay’s most nuanced performances. So, it’s pretty bold to just disregard these individual films and try and give them new identity as another film altogether.

It is hard to buy in to and become invested in Justine and the Whip, but my initial interest in the film was for the chance to at least see some of Julietta 69. After seeing it, I appreciate the film for being an interesting revisit of the previous films from an alternate perspective and with new music. Plus, the rare Julietta 69 footage is worthwhile. Julietta 69 did contain some captivating and quite alarming scenes of Lina in an erotic performance using a gun like a sex toy that gives some context to the flashbacks that make up a lot of the film. These gun scenes are also an intriguing addition for anyone who thinks they may have seen it all when it comes to Lina Romay.

I also really like the conversation between Justine and one of her old school friends, Ingrid (Marlène Myller), where Justine, like a poet of life, waxes about a desire to return to innocence, when there was still yet a whole lot to explore with love.

In this sort of, but not really, adaptation to Marquis de Sade’s Justine, it is mostly Lina Romay’s show. Her character has more in common with Emmanuelle than De Sade’s perpetual victim, but tragedy is brewing nonetheless. Be prepared to spend nearly the entirety of the film in Romay’s lovely company. As is usually the case, the sincerity and commitment in Jess Franco’s voyeuristic direction results in a constant intimate connection to Lina on a deep erotic level. Whether she has seduced and dominated another lover or is in despair, there’s never a dull action, position, pose, or expression in her performance. There is also a diverse collection of love scenes, including lesbian, S&M, menage a trois, and a real odd one involving death.

I was well aware of the Fidenco music used in this film from the Black Emanuelle films. Normally, I wouldn’t think these songs belonged anywhere but in their respective Emanuelle films, but I think it works here. I usually find myself swaying when the familiar Nico Fidenco tracks kick in. I think this music was just meant for lovemaking in the ‘70s. They do lend a different but still suitable vibe to Jess Franco’s world. And even in the Emanuelle films, I always thought the music really captured the miracle of love and the inimitable sex act.

There is the problem of Justine and the Whip coming off so obviously as a mashup of different films, which adds to its incoherency, but I feel like anyone seeking this film nowadays already knows this going in. The flow of the film is generally made up of a long series of sexual encounters, with a lot going on in-between, and a good deal of voice-over from Justine, primarily reflecting on her complicated/open relationship to a sensitive musician named Chris (Alain Petit). She loves him, but she can’t stay away from other men and women who she encounters at parties or at the night club she and Chris perform at. I wanted to think of Chris as a sadomasochist, but when he takes to using the whip, he’s usually in a religious frenzy, getting emotional, like he’s trying to cast out demons rather than getting kinky. Justine eventually wields the whip late in the movie and shows us how it’s really done.

Now, unfortunately I struggle with following the story. I know the story is there, and there is a lot of subtitled dialogue that I still like to think enriches my mind upon each viewing. I do understand that it is an erotic tragedy, leading up to a moment I was anticipating, but the movie is just more of a vibe to relax to, especially if Jess Franco, Lina Romay, and groovy music are your cup of tea. It's just something you float through, taking in the sights and sounds. The story ends up passing through me even though I’m still absorbing and processing the good vibes and emotions. All of the footage is just gorgeous, dreamlike, and a good condensed collage of mid-‘70s Franco in good form.

It is individual segments of Justine and the Whip that are great but not necessarily the film as a whole. This is understandable since there’s only so much you can do when limited to crafting an exploitation piece of art using footage from only three separate unrelated films. If anything, it inspired me to revisit Shining Sex and Midnight Party, mainly to remember what they were like and to see what footage from those films were not in Justine and the Whip. If you have an interest in seeing different versions of films, then with this one you at least get three different versions in one. 

© At the Mansion of Madness


*Thrower, S., (2018). Flowers of Perversion: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco: Volume 2. Strange Attractor Press.


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