Marquis de Sade’s Justine (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)1969 (February 21, 2023)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
One of the busiest and most versatile filmmakers in terms of the types of films he made over his 40-years-plus career, Jesús Franco (Jess Franco) participated in a number of projects through the 1960s through to the 2000s, some of which went unfinished and unreleased. His work with producer Harry Alan Towers proved to be some of his most prolific, having been given access to bigger budgets, more expansive shooting locations, and a larger range of acting talent to draw from. Among their collaborations was the 1969 film Justine, based upon the writings of Marquis de Sade, a controversial figure in his lifetime... to say the least.
As Marquis de Sade (Klaus Kinski) sits in a prison cell, he finds himself mentally anguished, writing out the exploits of Juliette (Maria Rohm) and her sister Justine (Romina Power), two wayward young women searching for their place in the world. Juliette is willing to go anywhere and do anything to get ahead in life, including working in a brothel and robbing and killing her clientèle, while Justine is an innocent who wishes to remain as such. They part from each other, but as Juliette finds success in her debaucherous endeavors, Justine is repeatedly taken advantage of by those she meets, including a perverted innkeeper (Akim Tamiroff), a notoriously deranged Madame (Mercedes McCambridge), a diabolical Lord and his wife (Horst Frank and Sylva Koscina), and a psychotic and torturous deviant (Jack Palance). Justine attempts to maintain her virtue without giving into sin, even as she’s repeatedly pushed into it.
Justine is considered by many to be lesser Franco, but it’s easy to lose sight of what he had to work with compared to some of his later output. He was given one of his highest budgets ever, purported to be a million dollars, and the money is there to be seen on screen with beautiful locations, lush costumes, and Bava-esque lighting. The film is mostly known for the unfortunate performance by Romina Power, whom Franco was forced to work with, bypassing his original choice, Rosemary Dexter. Klaus Kinksi is completely mute as the Marquis de Sade, a role that Franco would have preferred his friend and mentor Orson Welles inhabit.
Justine winds up as a series of vignettes about depravity and how it can overcome you, particularly with an innocent young woman who is constantly tormented by both men and women, with only one character, Raymond (Harald Leipnitz), actually taking the time to help her. There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance by Italian bombshell Rosalba Neri during the film’s highlight, which are series of scenes with an inebriated and over-the-top performance by Jack Palance. Justine may not be top tier Franco, but it’s nonetheless memorable and beautiful to look at, even if it’s fragmented and takes certain liberties with its source material.
Marquis de Sade’s Justine was shot by director of photography Manuel Merino on 35 mm film and finished photochemically at the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Blue Underground brings the film to Ultra HD for the first time in its fully uncut, uncensored form from a 4K restoration of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included). As expected by the quality that Blue Underground usually produces for their releases, this is a gorgeous presentation that’s entirely organic with tightly-knitted grain and a high bitrate. It’s clean and stable throughout, with the only imperfections being those that took place inside the camera. It’s a very natural, film-like presentation with excellent saturation that’s deeply enriched by the HDR, blowing open the gamut with deep blacks and high levels of shadow detail. Beautiful, varied hues and flesh tones can be experienced end-to-end. The film has never looked better.
Audio is included in English mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. This clean and problem-free track offers good support for both dialogue and score, as well as sound effects, despite its lack of speaker space. A very satisfying track.
Marquis de Sade’s Justine on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 1080p Blu-ray of the film featuring the same restoration with their traditional home video artwork for the film on the insert and limited slipcover. The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Commentary with Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth
- French Trailer (UHD w/HDR – 3:46)
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Commentary with Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth
- The Perils and Pleasures of Justine (Upscaled SD – 20:03)
- Stephen Thrower on Justine (HD – 17:35)
- On Set with Jess (HD – 8:17)
- French Trailer (HD – 3:46)
- Poster & Still Gallery (HD – 88 in all)
- Deadly Sanctuary (HD – 95:41)
The new audio commentary features film historian Nathaniel Thompson and author Troy Howarth, who aren’t very screen specific most of the time, but delve extensively into the film, as well as other films, by Jess Franco. They discuss most of the main cast and crew, the various cuts of the film over the years, and their opinions of Franco’s work. Howarth goes on the defense when speaking of others who have described Franco’s films as “lazy,” while Thompson acknowledges that even his Franco’s works carry his unmistakable directorial stamp. They’re both very upbeat and supportive of this release, even if they don’t consider it to be one of their favorites. As always, they provide plenty of valuable insight into the production. The Perils and Pleasures of Justine features vintage interviews with Jess Franco and producer Harry Alan Towers about the film, Franco always frank and honest about the people he’s worked with, including Romina Power. The great Stephen Thrower, author of Flowers of Perversion, Volume 2: The Delirious Cinema of Jesús Franco, delves into Franco’s career up to this point in comparison with the other films that he was making at the time, especially as it pertains to his relationship with the dictator-led Spanish government. In On Set with Jess, Rosalba Neri speaks about her memories of working with Franco and her amazement of having younger and younger fans of her oldest films. Next is the film’s original French trailer and a Poster & Still Gallery containing 88 images of posters, advertising materials, lobby cards, black and white behind-the-scenes and promotional stills, home video and soundtrack artwork, and book artwork. Last but not least is Deadly Sanctuary, the shorter US version of the film, included here in very good high definition quality. Not carried over from Blue Underground’s 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray release is a CD soundtrack by Bruno Nicolai.
The first film by Jess Franco to make it to 4K Ultra HD is treated with the usual amount of tender-loving care by Blue Underground. Justine is far from a perfect film, but you’re certainly not going to find a better presentation of it. For fans of the director’s work, this comes highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons
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