Color, 1973, 92 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Alain Jessua
Starring Alain Delon, Annie Girardot, Robert Hirsch, Michel Duchaussoy
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Kadokawa (Blu-ray & DVD) (Japan RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Studio Canal (DVD) (France R2 PAL), Optimum (DVD) (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
At the height of his stardom as one of France's most popular leading men, Alain Delon took a very unexpected detour from his usual dramas and crime films by starring in this peculiar mixture of thriller, borderline horror film, and social commentary satire from director Alain Jessua, a neglected and not particularly prolific filmmaker who had hadn't taken the reins since 1967's interesting Jeu de massacre with Jean-Pierre Cassel. Here with Traitement de choc (or Shock Treatment) he had his most high-voltage cast by far, pairing up Delon with the winning Annie Girardot, who had appeared with Delon in Rocco and His Brothers and starred in multiple films for Philippe De Broca, Claude Lelouch, and Marco Ferreri, among others. The fact that both stars took part in the film's infamous, unabashed skinnydipping in the ocean scene became a big promotional gimmick for the film (with the U.K. going further by calling it Doctor in the Nude), but the film itself isn't a comedy or sexploitation by any means. Spooky and deliberately paced, it's a covert entry in the line of oddball medical chillers that would become more common later in the following decade ranging from Thirst to Night of the Hunted. It's also perhaps more timely now than ever before, dealing with issues of entitlement, greed, and the exploitation of immigrants in such a lacerating way you could easily remake it now without changing much at all.
Wit middle age encroaching, middle-aged Hélène Masson (Giradot) takes the advice of her friend, Jérôme (Hirsch), to rejuvenate herself at an exclusive seaside clinic run by researcher Dr. Devilers (Delon). There she mingles with members of the upper class who partake in experimental injections and other treatments involving saunas and seaweed, all seemingly carefree and above board. She soon becomes sexually entangled with the doctor despite her suspicions that something's afoot with the Portuguese staff, who don't seem to be particularly well and might have something to do with the doctor's serum. When Jérôme abridges his earlier recommendation with a dire warning about the institute, she soon finds herself in an insidious plot that leads to homicide and a cynically ironic ending.
A tough film to pin down in terms of genre or even intended audience, Shock Treatment is a fascinating film that sticks in the memory with its peculiar, discreet treatment of subject matter that becomes more gradually outlandish as the film goes along before diving into full-on genre territory in the last few minutes. While most French films around this time were going for melodic scores with a theme that might become a popular standard, this one instead features a percussive soundtrack by Jessua and René Koering that echoes the multiple cultures at work in the story and the attitude to "other" civilizations fit to be exploited for the benefit of a predatory few.
Given a minor theatrical release in the U.S. by New Line, Shock Treatment has been essentially out of circulation for English-speaking viewers for a very long time apart from U.K. DVD as part of a Delon "Screen Icons" box from Optimum (packaged with Purple Noon, L'eclisse, Un flic, and Flic Story). The film made its Blu-ray debut in 2017 from Japanese label Kadokawa, in French with Japanese subtitles and completely uncensored with no blurring of the extensive frontal nudity. That disc also features a 22-minute, French-language interview with Jessua and a flat letterboxed French trailer. In 2020, Severin Films bowed the film in the U.S. as separate Blu-ray and DVD editions featuring a 2K scan from the original interpositive, which looks pretty comparable to the Japanese edition. Image quality looks solid if fairly restrained given the nature of the film, which has a bright, somewhat soft appearance with a steely cold veneer throughout. The original French track is included in DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono (with English subtitles) along with the rare English dub, which is interesting to compare at least once. "Alain Jessua – The Lone Deranger" (20m13s) features Bernard Payen, curator at The Cinémathèque Française, providing context for the director's career as a contemporary of the major French New Wave filmmakers despite not really being a part of it, his luck in getting major actors to headline his films, and the presence of regulars like Duchaussoy who fit into his skewed look at reality (or lack thereof). In "Koering’s Scoring" (23m43s), Koering chats about his entry into music (without wanted to become a musician) after started off as a painter, his admiration of Bernard Herrmann, and his first connection with Jessua that led to a trip to Brazil to bring the score to life. "Director’s Disorder"
(9m51s) is a new edit of a 2011 interview with Jessua about therapeutic trends at the time, the significance of doing his own music, the inspiration behind other films like the disturbing Les chiens, the "touch of fantasy" he employed without doing any outright horror, and his overall views on genre and social commentary. Finally, "Drumrunning" (8m19s) features Koering commenting on the main titles, the beach scene, and an outdoor chase while discussing his approach to the film including the instrumentation (such as the use of a Senegalese harp and African drums) and the thematic undercurrents he wanted to emphasize involving the Portuguese characters. The French trailer is also included (anamorphic this time), and the first pressing also comes with a CD soundtrack.
Reviewed on October 29, 2020.