Posted by: John Gholson
I can’t speak for how faithful this adaptation of Marquis De Sade’s Justine (aka Cruel Passion) is, but if it doesn’t stick directly to the text, I have to imagine it sticks to the author’s intent (the best it can, that is, without being pornographic). Under the direction of Chris Boger, and the lens of Coen Brothers stalwart Roger Deakins, Justine is an erotically-charged, bleak little number about a girl (Koo Stark, supposedly playing a pre-teen, though she’s obviously and thankfully in her 20’s) who clings desperately to her innocence while ricocheting from scene to scene where that chastity is put to the test in harrowing ways.
The film doesn’t skimp on the depravity, featuring rape, necrophilia, mother-son incest and more, but before you draw the conclusion that this is some despicable sleaze-fest, it really isn’t. Boger, perhaps limited by the censors, picks his battles, and when he does, he always chooses sexual frankness over outright titillation. Many things are discussed or implied without being directly shown. There’s not much nudity in here for an “erotic” film from the 1970’s, and Boger chooses to construct the entire film as little episodes of trouble for Justine, building up to its nihilistic, tough-as-nails conclusion.