Thursday, February 29, 2024

FRANCO FEBRUARY - DAY 29! SINFONIA EROTICA (1980) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films

Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 84 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: Spanish DTS-HD MA with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Lina Romay, Susan Hemingway, Armando Borges, Georges Santos, Aida Gouveia,, Candice Coster, Armando Sallent 

The same year that the prolific euro-cult purveyor turned out the reprehensible cannibal film Devil Hunter (1980) he also returned to the the more baroque carnal pleasures of the Marquis de Sade with Sinfonia Erotica (1980). The film stars his long-time muse Lina Romay (The Hot Nights of Linda) as wealthy estate owner Martine de Bressac who returns to her palatial mansion in the countryside after a stay at the asylum following a nervous breakdown. Soon after arriving she is informed by her sympathetic housekeeper Wanda (Aida Gouveia, Women in Cell Block 9) that while she has been away convalescing her mind her philandering 
husband Armand de Bressac (Armando Borges) has taken up with a young male lover named Flor (Mel Rodrigo, Slave of Crime) who now lives at the mansion, and that furthermore the young lover has has been a corruptive influence on her already morally challenged husband, a man who even prior to her stay at the hospital was cold and dismissive towards his wife. Despite this Martine makes an effort to win back the attention of her husband, who continues to be more drawn in by the charms of Flor's rear-end than his voluptuous wife. The discovery of a wayward nun named Norma (Susan Hemingway, Women in Cellblock 9) who is found unconscious and bloody on the property also proves to be a further distraction for the husband, with Armand and Flor having quite a bit of fun corrupting her into their sexual plaything.

During a visit to the home Martine's physician Dr. Louys (Albino Grazian, Oasis of the Zombies) informs Armand that his wife is physically frail and the slightest strain on her mind or body could prove fatal, thus a scheme is hatched to poison her and invoke a shock that will send her over the edge and into the chasm of death, a plot that the naughty nun Norma is to be complicit in. 

The film is nicely lurid but is not one of Franco's more erotic and sex-filled outings, though there's plenty of sex, including some a surprising man on man love and a not-so-surprising graphic lesbian love scene with the voluptuous Lina Romay and Susan Hemingway. This time around Romay is a blonde which is not my preference, but her role is interesting, playing a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, helpless to not love her awful man, her expressive eyes telling a lot of the story as her character narrates flashbacks and inner monologues. This was has a seriously delicious and delirious final leg with so many wonderful twists and turns and wrapping up quite nicely with a wholly satisfying psych-sexual finish with a surprising amount of murder, proving to be one of my favorite Franco entries of this era with it's sensual mix of sex, arthouse atmosphere and lurid twists.

The film set in a grand Victorian era mansion on a sprawling 
countryside estate with gorgeous gardens and mazes, the baroque setting has a whimsical dreamy quality highlighted by some artful soft-focus cinematography that brought to mind the lurid arthouse films of Walerian Borowczyk (Immoral Tales), it definitely feels like an older early 70's Franco film, not one from '80, a credit to Franco's savvy eye for the period setting, realizing it with minimalism and not grand overkill.

Audio/Video: Sinfonia Erotica (1980) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin with a new 4K scan of the only known decent film element, a 35mm print, framed in 1.66:1 widescreen, which is similar to the Sadist of Notre Dame Blu-ray, but this print is in significantly better shape than Sadist, it's got some natural wear and tear, but nothing egregiously awful. The grain can heavy in some of the oddly lit scenes but physical damage is mostly relegated to minor white speckling and some occasional scratches. The diffused light and soft focus cinematography looks great but doesn't offer a lot of fine detail, more atmospheric than crisp, that said the colors look accurate and but tend to fluctuate a tiny bit, all things considered, given the scarcity of any other elements this is a very pleasing presentation. Audio comes by way of a Spanish DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track with optional English subtitles, the track is dubbed and has a lot of reverb laid on it, with the lush score coming through nicely.   

Extras include a 7-min interview with the late Franco who discusses his first wife Nicole Guettard - it seems slightly skewed in regard to facts and timeline but it's touching, he also discusses his relationship with Soledad Miranda and Lina Romay. There's also a 22-min interview with Franco-authority/author Stephen Thrower, author of 'Murderous Passions - The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco'. Thrower is always a welcome addition to any Franco reissue, a vast well of euro-cult knowledge never failing to stun and entertain, going into the works of Franco with direct or indirect De Sade influence, speaking about the locations and visual style, and that damn anachronistic earring worn by Flor, plus Franco's ability to make a sumptuous meal with only a few small potatoes. 
The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a cool looking black Blu-ray case with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, a painting of a blond Lina Romay in a lustful way,  the disc itself featuring an excerpt of the same artwork. This is obviously from the same artist that did the illustration for the Sadist of Notre Dame Blu-ray for Severin, so they look great on the shelf right next to each other with Romay on one spine of one and Franco on the other, so you might as well buy both!

Special Features:

- Jess Franco on First Wife Nicole Guettard - Interview with Director Jess Franco (7 min) HD 
-  Stephen Thrower on Sinfonia Erotica - Interview with the author of "Murderous Passions - The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco." (22 min) HD

Sinfonia Erotica (1980) is a lush, erotic and deliciously twisted psycho-sexual thriller from Jess Franco, the new Blu-ray from Severin looks as good as it can, all things considered. I wasn't expecting to discover an all-time Franco favorite with this first time viewing, but this is right up there with She Killed In Ecstasy (1970), making this a top five Franco film for me.