Color, 1973, 86m.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Montserrat Prous ("Mona Prous"), Manuel Pereiro, Doris Thomas, Anne Libert, Jacqueline Laurent, Gaby Herman
Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
"I really don't like wearing clothes." When a beautiful woman says that while writhing on a European hotel bed, that came mean only one thing: a '70s Jess Franco film. In this case we're talking about Sinner: Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac, one of the elusive, notorious films he made for producer Robert de Nesle along with Lorna the Exorcist. Rarely seen in its original version, this stylish softcore offering was bastardized in most venues with the additions of bad hardcore inserts and sloppy recutting which ruined its hypnotic pacing. Fortunately its premiere DVD release marks the original Franco cut, and it's a welcome addition to the ever-growing library of forgotten Franco titles from his extremely funky period after the death of his most indelible muse, Vampyros Lesbos' Soledad Miranda.
At a sleazy nightclub, sexy Linda (Proust) performs a scintillating lesbian routine with her stage partner, Maria (Hansa), complete with a live prog rock act, and catches the eye of married dirtbag Ortiz (Pereiro). After the show he comes to her room for a quick tryst, but when he's asleep, she calls the cops-- and then slashes her throat, leaving him to wake up in time to get hauled off to jail. The police inspector (a cameo by Franco, of course) informs Ortiz's wife, Rosa (Laurent), who goes to investigate Linda's past... and discovers through flashbacks a sordid story about a young girl gradually corrupted by all the men around her. From discovering the joys of sapphic love with Maria to becoming entangled with a decadent countess (Libert), she plunges into pornography and prostitution all stemming from an early but pivotal experience in her past.
Made just before Franco's incredibly seedy late '70s period when his camera became fixated on Lina Romay, Sinner is a solid example of how he could transform a typical exploitation plot into a potent cinematic tonic on a low budget through the inventive use of color, decor, and especially music. The soundtrack here is simply fantastic, an ingenious mish mash of live rock and well-chosen Italian and French library music tracks, many of them manipulated into something wholly different; for example, the brilliant carnival flashback mixes three different tracks in and out of each other to achieve a wonderfully delirious aural effect. Franco naysayers may still scoff, of course, but those who can appreciate his more carefully crafted work should find plenty to indulge in here. In her fourth, final, and best Franco role, Proust makes for a sympathetic and beautiful heroine both in and out of her trendy outfits, though she's given a solid run for her money in the carnal department by the wildly uninhibited Hansa, who returned the next year in Franco's equally wild The Perverse Countess. Franco regular Howard Vernon is memorable as well in a disturbing third act apperance as a potential savior who turns out to be yet another predatory male, and the intricate flashback structure on the whole makes for an experience far more ambitious and challenging than your average sexploitation title.
Mondo Macabro's DVD doesn't have much previous competition to worry about given that this has never been available in a decent-looking version before. The anamorphic transfer is listed as 1.66:1 on the packaging, though it's actually quite a bit narrow and comes closer to 1.50:1. In any case, the framing looks fine while colors are incredibly rich and eye-popping; only a handful of shots drenched in heavy red lighting prove problematic given that we're still dealing with NTSC standard def here. Audio is presented in two dubs, English and French, with optional English subtitles; since the film looks like it was shot without any single coherent language in mind, either one is as legitimate as the other. However, the English track wins hands down here as it's far better sounding with crisper dialogue and a much punchier music track. Completists may want to sample the muffled French version afterwards for comparison as several points in the translation vary wildly; for example, Ortiz comes from Paris in the English version and Havana in the French one! The usual excellent text notes give a rundown on Franco's involvement with the film and its producer, while three video extras give you even more context. Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower contributes two pieces, a general survey of Franco's cinema (including a fascinating defense of use of zoom lenses) and a more specific analysis of Sinner in which he breaks down the film's artistic elements as they relate to Franco's other films around the same time. Both are well worth watching and on par with his terrific work on Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide. French director Gérard Kikoïne (Edge of Sanity and lots of smut) also appears for a cheerful, very colorful interview in which he talks about his involvement with both Franco and de Nesle, a count whose films he dubbed with his father at the time. He talks quite a bit about Franco's French film career including some bits about The Demons. Excellent work all around, and a nice return to Franco territory from Mondo Macabro after a long break.