Rene takes his lover, the photographer O, to a manor in the isolated area of Roissy to be submitted to humiliations, bondage and sexual perversions to prove that she belongs to him. O spends several days being sexually abused by several men and whipped until she is ready to return to Rene. Then he shares O with his older step-brother Sir Stephen until Rene finally gives O to him. Meanwhile O and Sir Stephen fall in love with each other.
A story about an unorthodox relationship The Story of O is still a controversial film many have found to be scandalous, unbearably graphic. Its explicit narrative, as well as unconventional depiction of human desire, is certainly amongst the boldest in mainstream cinema. Not surprisingly, moralistic watchdogs have dismissed it time and time again as pornography.
Yet, The Story of O is far and away from being a pornographic film. It is an erotic film where sex is depicted with style and elegance. It is also an interesting character study, one that uses sex as a pretext to offer an intriguing view on our fascination with humiliation. As such The Story of O is undoubtedly a dirty film as well, one that may not resonate well with those who routinely attach sex to morality.
What effectively splits audiences right down the middle when it comes to films such as The Story of O, however, is the willingness to accept sex as the only key element in a successful story. Some believe that filming explicit sex without promoting pornography is next to impossible. Others disagree. I share the opinion that there are too many critics who tend to mix erotica with pornography and dismiss a large number of films that are anything but exploitative.
Similar to Jess Franco’s Jesus in Furs (1969), Mauro Bolognini’s La Venexiana (1986), and Tinto Brass’ Paprika (1991) Just Jaeckin’s The Story of O (together with his unforgettable Emmanuelle) belongs to a genre where desire and sex are typically filmed with plenty of enthusiasm and little financial support. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of scenes here that feel a bit too amateurish. The lighting isn’t convincing, the actors occasionally seem a bit too stiff, and the lovemaking scenes perhaps a bit over the top. Yet, the mood is still as seductive and subversive as I remember it. Probably not as dark and corrosive as perpetuated by Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) but nevertheless quite strong.
I am convinced however that what you really want to know is whether or not The Story of O is worth seeing? Is it a good film? Well, many years have passed since I first saw it and though a lot has changes since then my affection for The Story of O hasn’t. I like its subversive tone, I like how it is filmed, and above all I like the fact that it plays with forbidden themes that few mainstream directors would have the guts to tackle. Sure, it certainly looks dated but I suppose this is what makes it charming, a little less serious than what some of its vehement opponents claimed it was more than thirty years ago. Simply put: for the genre it represents The Story of O is a great film!
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