Written by: Michael Den Boer on March 15th, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: France / Italy, 1963
Director: Roger Vadim
Writers: Claude Choublier, Roger Vadim, Roger Vailland
Cast: Annie Girardot, Catherine Deneuve, Robert Hossein, O.E. Hasse, Philippe Lemaire, Luciana Paluzzi, Howard Vernon
BluRay released: March 17th, 2015
Approximate running time: 107 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD Mono French
BluRay Release: Kino Lorber
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $29.95
Vice and Virtue was co-written and directed by Roger Vadim, whose other notable films include, …And God Created Woman, Blood and Roses, Barbarella and Pretty Maids All in a Row. Key collaborators on Vice and Virtue include cinematographer Marcel Grignon (Fantomas, The Beast), screenwriter Roger Vailland (The Law, Les liaisons dangereuses) and composer Michel Magne (Monsieur Gangster). The screenplay for Vice and Virtue was adapted from the Marquis de Sade‘s novel ‘Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu’.
When Roger Vadim directed Vice and Virtue, it was only the feature film attempt at adapting the works of Marquis de Sade. The only other feature film adaption at that time being Luis Buñuel’s L’Age d’Or and by the late 1960’s there would be an onslaught of De Sade inspired films, many of which were directed by Jesus Franco. With the most notorious De Sade adaption to date being Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
When compared to other adaptions of the De Sade novel ‘Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu’ Vadim’s adaption retains all the key essentials which drive De Sade’s literature. With Vadim’s main contribution being the time period which he set the story during the last two years of World War II and at the beginning of the film there is text from Vadim explaining why he choose the setting and era which his film’s takes place in. Fortunately one of the strengths of the De Sade’s literature works is that they are not bound by any specific moment in time. Ultimately their potency resides in the way that they effortlessly blur the lines between morality and sexuality.
The narrative for Vice and Virtue revolves around two sisters, Justine and Juliette. Juliette lives a decadent life where she is willing to do anything she has to get what and how she wants, while Justine leads life that is the exact opposite. And though they are sisters, they are not reunited until the day after Justine’s finance was abducted by Nazi’s. This is a pivotal moment in their relationship as Juliette whose life is in a good place refuses to help her sister for fear that she would loss everything that she has worked for. From there their lives do not cross over again until the final act when Juliette who has moved onto another lover encounters Justine who is being held prisoner at a castle occupied by Nazi’s. This time around Juliette offers to help her sister who no longer wants anything to do with her.
Content wise the scenes with the slave girls at the castle are the most De Sade like moments. All of the women dress gowns that look like they came from Roman times and none of them are allowed to be called by their names, only the number that they has since been assigned. Also these women’s only purpose is to satisfy their Nazi’s captors and their guests. Punishment for those who refuses to do what they are told is torture and for anyone who tries to escape they are executed and feed to dogs. It should be noted that the way in which these acts are portrayed is tame compared to other De Sade adaptions.
Visually Vadim once again does not disappoint as every inch of every frame is exploited for maximum effect. Where the majority of films made during this era where shot in color. The use of black & white photography proves to be an inspired choice. With one of the more profound moments visually being a scene where Justine who has remained pure up until that moment is finally thrown to the wolves. The way that Vadim photograph’s this moments and more specifically his leading ladies is nothing short of exquisite.
Performance wise one would be hard pressed to find any performs that did not rise to the occasion. And cast in the role of the two sisters are Annie Girardot (Rocco and His Brothers, The Ape Woman) in the role of Juliette and Catherine Deneuve (Repulsions, Belle de Jour) in the role of Justine. If ever there was a case of flawless casting, then it would be in the case of these two actresses who both effortlessly capture the essence of the characters they are portraying. Another performance of note is Robert Hossein (Rififi, Don Juan (Or If Don Juan Were a Woman)) in the role of SS Colonel Erik Schörndorf, it is his character that becomes Juliette’s lover after the first act of the film. Two notable cameos include Howard Vernon (The Awful Dr. Orlof, The Diabolical Dr. Z) in the role of a SS official and Luciana Paluzzi (A Black Veil for Lisa, Tragic Ceremony) in the role of Héléna, one of the woman being held captive by the Nazi’s.
Vice and Virtue comes on a 25 GB single layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen.The sources used for this transfer is in great shape, contrast and black levels look consistently strong throughout and details generally look crisp. Grain looks natural and there are no issues with DNR or compression. It should be noted that there are a few instances where the film incorporates stock footage and quality wise this footage is not on par with the footage the makes up the majority of the film.
This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono mix in French and also included with this release are removable English subtitles. Dialog comes through clearly and everything sounds balanced. The score sounds appropriately lush and the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack, like gunfire and explosions are well represented.
Extras for this release include a trailer for the film (3 minutes 11 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, in French with English subtitles) and a reversible cover art option. Overall Vice and Virtue gets a solid audio / video presentation from Kino Lorber.
Note: This film is also being released by Kino Lorber on DVD.