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March 19, 2015

Vice and Virtue

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Le Vice et la Virtu
Roger Vadim - 1963
Kino Classics BD Region A

Having come from the same literary source, the Maquis De Sade, every discussion about Vice and Virtue will invariably mention some similarity to Pasolini's Salo. What remains unanswered is whether Pasolini was in any way inspired by Vadim to transpose De Sade to a World War II setting. I would think it probable that even if he had not seen Vadim's version of De Sade's Justine, he would have at least been aware of the film, Vadim at the time being a very popular filmmaker, at least in Europe. Vadim's version begins with a statement by Vadim giving a brief explanation as to why he transposed the story to the last years of World War II. Vadim's justification seems more for himself than for the audience which probably didn't need a reminder that Nazi's were bad, bad people.

After opening with a montage of documentary war footage, Vadim cuts to a wedding party walking to church. The group walks past a bar called "A Tout va Bien" (Everything goes well). The irony is hardly subtle as German soldiers surround the family outside the church, and arrest the groom, spoiling the wedding for Justine. The bride is played by Catherine Deneuve, a year or so prior to her star making turn in Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Still in bridal wear, Justine seeks out sister Juliette, the mistress of a German general, to get her fiancé released. Disowned by her family, Juliette has traded her looks for the best available comforts of life. As Juliette, Annie Girardot is not conventionally attractive, but is able to convey her ability to take on the men in her life by letting them know she can be their equal in ruthlessness.

In their first scene together, Girardot and Deneuve meet in a sauna popular with the officers. The two are seen surrounded by steam, visually suggesting a meeting in Hell. And while Roger Vadim may have less to say about morality than he may have thought at the time, the reason to revisit Vice and Virtue has more to do with Vadim's visual style, which gets doesn't get discussed as much as the babes he bagged over the years.

It might be a theatrical device, but there are also a couple of moments when Vadim darkens the screen so that the viewer can only see, as in one scene. Girardot, Deneuve, and as the most evil Nazi, Robert Hossein. In another scene, taking place in a long hallway, the camera moves backward with Girardot's back to the camera, Hossein slapping her to submission. Where other filmmakers might simply move the camera forward or use a zoom shot, Vadim edits close-ups of Girardot's face while she is wincing, witnesses the torture of a prisoner.

Vice and Virtue was released in the U.S. by MGM, probably the last major studio to be considered in association with anything remotely avant-garde. In his review for the New York Times, Eugene Archer sums up his thoughts on the film with, "Even so, Mr. Vadim is a man with audacious ideas about movies. He misfires, but he scatters plenty of sparks along the way." A fair judgment of this film I would say. Any intellectual aspirations as shallow, and those looking for the eroticism that Vadim has been linked with in previous fins, will probably find disappointment here. But well after fifty years, the virtues to be found here are in Vadim's visuals.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 19, 2015 07:26 AM