Blue Underground released Claude Pierson’s Justin de Sade (1972) as part of their limited edition collection Fifty Shades of de Sade along with three films by Jess Franco. This was a shameless marketing ploy by Blue Underground. Justin de Sade may not be the best film in this quadruple feature set, but it is one of the more faithful adaptations of the Marquis de Sade’s works that is included.
I suppose Claude Pierson’s direction is adequate enough for this kind of film, but it’s Alice Arno who steals the show. Arno makes for a terrific Justine with her virtuous looking face and stoic expressions. She’s probably better known to fans of “Euro-Sleaze” for her work in The Bare-Breasted Countess (1973) and A Virgin Among The Living Dead (1973). Actors who appeared mostly in exploitation films never really get enough credit for bringing as much as they do to either a thankless role or a two-dimensional part, and Arno is no exception.
The weakness of Pierson’s film is that it adheres too closely to de Sade’s text. Where repetition of narrative can be an asset to prose, it can become a slog for images. On a larger budget I’m sure that Pierson could have found a number of ways to vary the blocking of the various scenes of sex and violence. Unfortunately Justine de Sade, as a film, is a prisoner of its economic circumstance. The 115 minute run time of this “director’s cut” that Blue Underground has issued on disc becomes quite the slog for these reasons before one is even an hour in.
Justine de Sade will definitely appeal to the perverse for sure (as well it should), but aside from that, I imagine interested parties will fall into one of three categories. Firstly, fans of the novel will definitely be intrigued to see this attempt at a faithful adaptation that doesn’t go any harder than soft-core. Secondly, students of film history might find value in Justine de Sade within the larger context of European exploitation films. Finally, some may just be nostalgic for this brand of film. Who knows, there may be some of us out there who fit all three categories, which would be exciting.