Venus In Furs Review
The happiest music in the world comes in European pornography of the late-sixties and seventies. In between the various seductions that, if you excuse the pun, come thick and fast in Venus In Furs, the music is a jaunty pop trek in between psychedelia and bossa nova. What makes this so unusual is that once the film makes its way past its early sexual encounters, in which the sun lights the naked bodies of Laura Antonelli, Régis Vallée and whatever waifs and strays they pick up, these jolly songs play out the humiliations, sexual assaults and rapes that are a staple of Venus In Furs. Happy - so very happy - but an odd accompaniment.
Venus In Furs is based on the famous novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which was planned to be part of a series of books called Legacy Of Cain. The title and subject matter was borrowed by The Velvet Underground, who doubtless caused many to wonder just who or what Severin was. Régis Vallée plays Severin, a man with a clear childhood memory of watching his family's butler seduce their maid. Later, that same maid would strike the young Severin and while she then comforted him, Severin would forever make the connection between the pain in his cheek, his tears and the maid's naked breasts. Years later, Severin meets Wanda (Laura Antonelli), first watching her shower through a peephole before introducing himself to her. Soon after, Wanda accidentally strikes Severin but while she apologises, he remembers the maid striking him and the flush of desire thereafter. Severin asks that Wanda treat him as her slave, punishing her as she sees fit and encourages her to treat him in ever more humiliating ways. But one day, while driving in the countryside, Wanda meets a new lover and submits himself to her. Severin, humiliated and beaten by this man, wonders if this is to be his fate.
No matter how innocent you may be and while you might not know what it meant by BDSM, it's fair to say the names of de Sade and Sacher-Masoch will be reasonably familiar. One gave us the word sadism while the other gave the English language masochism. Severin is the masochist of Venus In Furs, a man who The Velvet Underground instructed to, "Severin, down on your bended knee...Taste the whip, now plead for me." This film tells the story of Severin realising that his relationship with Wanda will not end happily. And so it proves with Severin fantasising about his being muzzled while Wanda and two maids are tied up and raped by Bruno, the biker who first seduced only Wanda. This comes after an S&M fantasy in which Wanda is tied to a post and whipped by the KKK.
The problem with Venus In Furs is that while the original book may have been very daring, this is less so. Of course, you won't be showing it to an audience of children and it will be many a year before it's used to warm up the congregation at a recording of Songs Of Praise but it's a silly old film nonetheless. Not only will it not satisfy anyone looking for sexual thrills - the only full nudity comes is courtesy of the hairy biker boy near the film's end - but it does a dreadful job of the film's conclusion, which should be unpleasant but only ever produces plenty of laughs, largely because of Bruno haw-hawing through the scene. He laughs at the two lesbian maids tied to a post. He laughs as he throws Wanda to the ground. He laughs even more as he leads Severin about the room on a leash. Four, maybe five, minutes of Bruno laughing and in spite of the dreadful things happening on the screen, you will struggle not to join in with Bruno. Laughing, that is, not walking about naked in front of a pair of lesbian maids before raping someone.
Those who like literary Eurotica would be better off with the films of Walerian Borowczyk, which lack a Bruno character to drag the viewer out of the air of sexual expression that Severin's memories do so well to put in place early in the film. As does Lou Reed's "Different colours made of tears", one line that has more eroticism within it than the whole eighty minutes of Venus In Furs.
Still cut say the Melon Farmers and the cut is a fairly obvious one, with the film falling foul of the BBFC's rule that film should not present the rape victim as growing to enjoy their assault. Venus In Furs has a dream sequence quite late on where a woman appears to be doing just that before the film fades quickly to black and the rapist is up and about once more. The BBFC have avoided cutting quickly away in the middle of the scene but it's still obvious as to where they have trimmed the film.
That aside, and if you're into euro-adaptations of literary erotica of this kind (and that from Jess Franco), the appeal of Venus In Furs will be to have the thing on DVD, not that it comes with a particularly good transfer but it is at least on disc. The picture, though certainly soft and looking unfocused at times, shares a look that it has in common with a lot of European pornography of this era in that its soft focus doesn't wear well on DVD. Add to that a lot of blocking in the night time scenes and this is leaves a lot to be desired...a bit like Bruno's habits about the house. There is some noticeable grain but I don't have a problem with that.
The DD2.0 audio is fine but this is certainly not a show disc. The film does look as though it was originally in English but does show that some work was required in post-production to make it understandable. So, while it might look dubbed or that the lip synch is off, I don't think that Euro-porn has ever been any different, something that years of watching RTL on Sky Analogue has given this viewer an understanding of. The music sounds great, though, each song a great bit of psychedelic pop. The film might not be great but the score sounds a classic.
The only bonus material on this disc is a set of Trailers, including Richard Dawkins The Heretic, Ratman, The Black Cat, The Frightened Woman, The Killer Nun and the actually-quite-exciting-sounding Night Train Murders. Although it's actually Flavia The Heretic and Night Train Murders doesn't really look that good either.