Gaze as memory and fantasy: Franco’s faux raccords in “Venus in Furs”

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A brief note just after seeing (for the very first time) Jesús Franco’s outstanding erotic thriller Venus in Furs (aka Paroxismus, 1969). One of the early scenes is a pretty good summation of the film’s main stylistic and narrative procedures. We are presented to a fancy high society party of motionless figures; among them, Klaus Kinski’s character, taking a glass. Music all around and suddenly a cut to Jimmy (James Darren) playing his hornet.

VENUS 01 VENUS 02 VENUS 03

Jimmy’s shot is highly disruptive, it just seems displaced from the whole context with its low-key lighting and the red wall, but the soundtrack seems to emphasize a sufficient sense of spacial continuity. Back to the main action, Kinski is driven to a woman, Wanda (Maria Rohm), that enters the place, and here things start to get really complex, because Franco cuts back to Kinski in a completely different space, with the red background, and two new characters at the party are shown in the same way. Jimmy also notices the woman; the camera zooms in as he is apparently looking at her.

VENUS 04 VENUS 05VENUS 06 VENUS 09

Only much later in the movie, we find out that this last shot of Jimmy was not from the actual party (which took place in Istanbul), but from a club in Rio de Janeiro where he will meet the same woman again.

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Jimmy was at the same time (and indistinguishably) seeing, remembering and fantasizing his first encounter with her in Istanbul, which will be somehow reenacted in Rio as a turning point for his predicament. Only by the very end of the film, after Wanda’s final revenge, it’s revealed that the shots of Kinski and his collaborators against a red wall come indeed from a room where they stare at her dead body instead of her entrance in the party (or maybe both circumstances, in their eyes, are just one and the same). Whether this disconcerting scene in the red room is real, imaginary, spiritual or whatever is ultimately irrelevant by that point. One single scene and how it resonates in the whole movie exemplify quite well Franco’s highly intelligent and often ambiguous use of faux raccords to render situations and environments into ambiguous mindscapes of sexual obsessions. Venus in Furs would be a very perfunctory piece of screenwriting if it wasn’t for Franco’s attention to visual motifs (most notably the color red) and patterns of repetition and discontinuity throughout the film; it’s an imagistic texture that greatly trancends its bare source material. So a rather routine Vertigo-like suspense story can become an authentic cinematic experience of loss of reality in obsessive fantasy and desire.

Fernando Costa

VENUS 12

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