Color, 1982, 105 mins. 4 secs. / 87 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Muriel Montossé, Antonio Mayans, Antônio do Cabo, Lina Romay, Ana Paula, José Valero
Blue Underground (Blu-ray & DVD, US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
A stylish softcore item from Franco's later tenure with Eurociné Films, Cecila is, rather perversely, one of his most exquisitely-mounted productions of the period. The straightforward but unsettling story, which sounds more like something suited for Joe Sarno, follows a haughty upper class wife, Cecilia (Montosse), who likes to spend her days reenacting the opening from The Story of O by getting nasty in the back seat in front of her chauffeur (Valero). Unfortunately she pushes her servants too far, and as retribution she winds up being attacked by the chauffeur's two brothers -- which has the unintended effect of rekindling her bedroom relationship with her husband, Andre (Mayans), who reluctantly joins her for a swinging lifestyle in their château with erotic parties and additional partners in their bed. However, emotional entanglements ensue that will force them to reassess how they want to be committed to each other.
Originally assembled for the Spanish market in 1980 as Aberraciones sexuales de una mujer casada (or Sexual Aberrations of a Housewife), the film ran a trim 87 minutes and named its main character Emmanuelle. When Eurociné got ahold of it for the more widely distributed 1982 version in French and English, it was padded out considerably with a long flashback featuring Parisian sightseeing footage, a new party scene featuring Franco regular Pierre Taylou, and various minor scene extensions. They also fudged a bit with some of the original music, to mostly inferior effect. However, the story plays out pretty much the same in either cut, even if the Spanish one is a somewhat tighter and more focused presentation. Featuring a memorable one-scene orgy appearance by Lina Romay and enough sex scenes to keep skin fans entertained, Cecilia may not win points for narrative originality but easily scores on the level of pure sensory pleasure. The locales, actors and production design are all unusually lush and elegant for Franco, and even the sex scenes veer more towards Radley Metzger territory than the standard spread-and-grind of his usual sex output. None of the actors (Lina excepted) has the intense cinematic magnetism of Franco's most familiar stock players, but they all perform capably enough and go through their often unclad paces well enough. The wild, semi-incestuous orgy scene (which teeters close to hardcore at one point) is easily the highlight, with some strange visual flourishes best experienced without warning. Of course, the fact that the film seems to position assault as some kind of marital therapy is going to be an issue for a lot of viewers with an approach that puts it in the same dangerous waters as films like Swept Away, Straw Dogs, and Spetters, though in this case it's done with enough of a detached and unrealistic attitude that you could arguably classify it as our protagonist's darkest daydreams in action.
Making its DVD debut in 2008 from Blue Underground, Cecilia was quite the gorgeous knockout at the time. Even when nothing much is going on, you'll be entranced by the rich detail evident in every shot. The soundtrack is presented in both English and French dubs with optional English subtitles, and both are quite workable for the film with the French option slightly more appropriate to the actors. That said, in keeping with the studio the audio is very low grade with some inherent distortion in the music. Franco pops up again for yet another frank and funny interview, "Sexual Aberrations of Cecila" (16m42s), which goes into his intentions for the film, his distaste for the original title ("I think they're sweet aberrations"), and his love for the Portuguese shooting locations. An English trailer is also included.
In 2020, Blue Underground revisited the film for Blu-ray with one heck of a selling point: the inclusion of Franco's superior Spanish version along with the usual French one. The latter is again presented with French or English dub options (with optional English subtitles, SDH and translated for the French track), both DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono and sounded fine given the ragged nature of the original mixes. The image quality improves in all the expected ways including a bit more image info on the sides, improved color timing with more subtle whites and grays, and a good bump in detail. The Spanish version has been reconstructed from the same scan and looks identical image-wise, though it retains the French credit sequence as one could assume the Spanish version (which doesn't have those freeze frames, for one) wasn't available. It's great to finally have this version (which reinstates the "Emmanuelle" name) available to view with English subtitles, and newcomers may want to check this version out first instead. The Franco featurette from the DVD is ported over here along with the trailer, and you also get a new analysis from the always perceptive Stephen Thrower, "Amoral Fantasies" (16m16s). It's a very useful sketch of the film's history from its initial Spanish production through the French alterations, while focusing on Franco's flair for shooting locations and the unusual role of director of photography Juan Solar. Interestingly, he doesn't overlap much at all with his lengthy discussion of the film in his 2019 book about Franco, Flowers of Perversion, which focuses far more extensively on the dicey treatment of rape in the narrative. You also get an expanded version of the Calum Waddell documentary, "Franco-Philes: Musings on Madrid’s B-Movie Maverick" (68m4s), which first bowed on the 88 Films Blu-ray of Devil Hunter but is presented here in a reedited and expanded version running 20 minutes longer and featuring interviews with participants like John Martin, Rachael Nisbet, Tony Timpone, Caroline Munro, Dyanne Thorne, and Daniel Lesouer chatting about his prolific body of work and the actors he recruited along the way. Finally the disc rounds out with a gallery (54s) of NSFW stills, posters, and video art.
Blue Underground (Blu-ray)
Blue Underground (DVD)
Updated review on August 29, 2020