Reviewed by Tim Hulsizer
The Marquis de Sade's JUSTINE, a/k/a "Cruel Passion," is an easy film for a man to watch but a hard film to like. The reason for the first half of that isn't difficult to pin down: half the scenes involve feminine nudity of the sort you just don't get anymore. Then-21-year-old Koo Stark's body was a sight to behold, and it's no wonder she ended up involved in a 1982 relationship with England's Prince Andrew. Add in the film's other physically gifted lasses and you're in for a fleshy treat. Yet prurient enjoyment will only get a film so far. Eventually the soul yearns for nourishment that no bared breast can provide.
The plot, according to one talented IMDB scribe named Ørnås, is thus: "JUSTINE is a nubile young virgin cast out of a French orphanage and thrust into a depraved world of prostitution, predatory lesbians, a fugitive murderess, bondage, branding, and one supremely sadistic monk. It's a twisted tale of strange desires, perverse pleasures and the ultimate corruption of innocence as told by the Marquis de Sade."
Clearly the movie has no lack of plot. However, while it has supple flesh and sadism to spare, JUSTINE suffers from its slavish devotion to de Sade's principles. He was a man who despised religion and took every opportunity to spit in its face, and he would gladly sacrifice reader enjoyment for his own perverse whims. I know that not every movie has a happy ending, but I feel the best 1970s softcore films were the ones that didn't punish the viewer for watching. JUSTINE does precisely that. Like de Sade's original work, there's scarcely a sympathetic character in the bunch, and even the likeable ones meet a grisly end.
Still, I suppose it's silly to complain about a director being faithful to the original text of a book. Boger had a vision and brought it across onscreen ably. The sets, costumes, and performances are routinely enjoyable here despite any ugly aspects of the narrative. Salvation has done an excellent job on the DVD restoration and authoring, and the disc offers two interesting interviews with director Chris Boger and writer Ian Cullen. Also along for the digital ride are stills and a trailer for the film. The years haven't been kind to Ms. Stark (she had passport problems in the US in 2001, cancer robbed her of a breast in 2002, and 2008 found her evicted from her London flat) but we'll always have the 70s. JUSTINE represents Ms. Stark at her finest and shall always remain a highly watchable time capsule of her remarkable beauty.