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Das Frauenhaus (1977)

Blue Rita, Le Cabaret des filles perverses

Directed by:

Jess Franco

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 75 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: Switzerland, France

Apart from professional pornographers, few could claim to have directed literally hundreds of films – yet since his debut with ‘Tenemos 18 Años’ (1959), Jess Franco has made over 180 feature films, often writing, scoring and appearing in them as well. To some the wayward Spaniard is little more than a sleaze merchant, while to others he is an auteur genius – but he is no regular pornographer. Certainly sex and nudity play an important part in much of his lurid work, but his preoccupation with the power dynamics of sexuality lends his films a distinctly Sadean character that is likely to frustrate any punter looking for straightforward sexual kicks. Put simply, sex for Franco is never far from politics – and this is especially true of the films he made with Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich – films like Ilsa the Wicked Warden, Barbed Wire Dolls, Love Camp, and of course ‘Blue Rita’.

The mysterious Rita (Martine Flety) owns, and occasionally performs in, a popular Parisian nightclub. A lesbian and avowed hater of men, Rita uses her strippers to ensnare political VIPs whom she imprisons in the club’s secret basement. There, using bizarre but effective experimental methods, she extracts information from them for a Communist spy agency, while also getting them to sign over their savings to her personal bank accounts and taking revenge for the particularly brutal brand of sexual torture to which she was herself once subjected. Rita’s Communist contact sends a new girl named Sun (Dagmar Bürger) to the club. After renouncing men forever and becoming Rita’s lover, Sun is assigned to seduce Janosch Lassard (Eric Falk), a heavyweight boxer from the Eastern Bloc rumoured to be defecting. Sun seems a little more attracted to Janosch than a Sapphic misandrist ought to be – yet with Interpol (not unlike the Club’s clients) keeping an eye on Rita and her girls from a distance, and lots of double-agents waiting in the wings, there is more than merely sexual treachery in the air.

Like Franco’s earlier ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ (1971), ‘Blue Rita’ is a classic of softporn seventies psychedelia, and no mere summary can quite do justice to how genuinely strange it is. To the accompaniment of a groovily disorienting jazz track, the strippers set their honeytraps in a room painted minimalist white whose furniture is all transparent inflatable plastic – and Sun’s blurry congress with Rita is filmed through a giant tank full of fish. One of the stage-acts features a naked woman pretending to be a mannequin, her pubes covered by the bust of an elephant’s head whose trunk Rita’s Indian assistant strokes, kisses and licks – while the political prisoners downstairs are coated in a “magic green juice” (as fluoresent as Rita’s many wigs) which makes them “so randy” that they think their “balls will burst” – while Sun wears a gas mask as she has sex with Janosch.

By the time it is all over, you will be unsure whether you have just witnessed a Cold War thriller, an Iron Curtain farce, or an LSD-inspired orgy – but rest assured that “reason”, as one character puts it with an impossibly straight face, “always triumphs in the end”. After masterfully subjecting his (male) viewers to the teasing torments and mad whims of a powerful sisterhood, Franco provides an ending that, for all its apparent conventionality, is in context highly subversive – for he suggests that the patriarchical order which ultimately prevails is, in its way, every bit as perverse as what has preceded.

It's Got: Soft-focus seventies psychedelia; a groo-oo-oovy soundtrack; strippers, spies, and lots of sexual politics; an anti-heroine with some very lurid wigs; and the line "and remember one thing, child - the nipples have to be visible at all times" (something Franco DID remember for most of his career).

It Needs: Preferably to be seen under the influence of a LOT of drugs (including the mythical "magic green juice").

DVD Extras Scene selection; choice in soundtrack between (dubbed) English or original German (with English subtitles); biographies and filmographies of producer Erwin C. Dietrich, director Jess Franco, and actors Pamela Stanford, Eric Falk, Martine Flety and Dagmar Bürger; 15 production stills; poster gallery (of other German-language soft porn productions); trailer reel for other films from the Jess Franco Collection; documentary (21min) presented by Erwin C. Dietrich, who focusses on Francos Jack the Ripper (1976), and portentously hails Franco as a "genius", a "seventies freak", a "herald of postmodernism", and a "forerunner of Dogme 95". DVD Extras Rating: 5/10

Alternatives:

Barbed Wire Dolls, Ilsa the Wicked Warden, Love Camp

Summary

Be it Cold War thriller, lesbian spy farce, or acid-spiked orgy, this soft-core slice of seventies psychedelia will make your brain, if not your balls, burst.

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