The 70s were an interesting time for sex in the cinema as films that would be considered outright pornos by today’s standards were getting legitimate theatrical releases, being reviewed by notable papers and critics, and earning tons of money. Now, when one looks back at such films as Behind the Green Door (1972) Deep Throat (1972) and Debbie Does Dallas (1978) we see low budget filmmaking with bad acting and worse direction that is on par with today’s porn films, yet over in Europe, things were a little different. In France the 70s sexploitation boom was quite different than what we were seeing here in North America at the time, directors with fairly decent credentials were making big-budgeted erotic films that were not only beautifully shot but were populated with talented actors and actresses. That’s not to say there were no high-quality erotic films coming out of the states, it’s just they were not the norm.
The Story of O is based on the book of the same name by author Anne Cécile Desclos under the pseudonym Pauline Réage and is the tale of the erotic submission of the title character who is only ever identified as “O” and her introduction into the world of sadomasochism and bondage. The movie opens with O (Corinne Clery), a young and beautiful fashion photographer being driven to the Château Roissy, a sort of Hogwarts for BDSM aficionados, by her lover René (Udo Kier) and where she will be trained as a sexual slave. He has her remove her panties and is told that she must obey all within the Château without question and to never cross her legs, always keep them open. O has come here willingly and is completely open to the idea of becoming a sexual object, sadly aside from the desire to please the man of her life we get no real inclination as to why O would be okay with this lifestyle.
O is prepped and bathed by a bevy of beauties that all dress in the standard Château Roissy uniform which is a period dress but one that leaves the bosoms bare. She is brought before a group of men, has sex with them, and then is whipped, all while René watches. It seems his philosophy is that when a man gives his woman to other men only then does he truly own her.
René then leaves the Château giving the care and training of O over to the staff and residents of the Roissy. Over the next few weeks, she is stripped, blindfolded, collared, chained whipped, and fucked by any and all men that desire her. The endless narration tells us that because she loves René she loves what is happening to her. We are to believe this is to be some kind of liberating experience but it comes off as kind of creepy.
René returns for her and he takes her back to the “real world” where she resumes her job as a photographer only now she is doing some of her best work apparently due to her sexual experiences at Château Roissy. Her change also leads to her attraction to model Jacqueline (Li Sellgren) and which leads to an interesting dynamic change. René kind of fobs O off on his brother Sir Stephen (Anthony Steel) while he pursues Jacqueline who isn’t all that into him, meanwhile O actually starts to fall in love with Stephen. And because he is French his way of proving his love is to bring O to Anne-Marie (Christiane Minazzoli) who runs another type of S&M training facility but one that also empowers women to take the upper hand as well as to be submissive. This movie is kinda like an episode of Three’s Company only if written by the Marquis de Sade.
Director Just Jaeckin presents us with a gorgeous film littered with beautiful women in varying degrees of undress and bondage, it stays fairly faithful to the source material with the few changes made making for a more satisfying story. As for the sex, well this is pure softcore stuff here and really nothing you won’t see in today’s R-rated movies, only the subject matter makes it a bit racy. The strangest thing for me was seeing a young and handsome Udo Kier as I’ve really only seen films from his later years. My biggest criticism is the use of narration which is a crutch many films use and can be very annoying and really adds nothing to the story here. Still, The Story of O is a well-constructed movie if not always engaging.
The Story of O (1975)
1975 was certainly a good year for erotica with The Story of O and The Image being two great examples of the genre, with both films being beautiful and artful projects, but Metzger’s film is by far the superior one as it truly pushes the boundaries while director Just Jaeckin may have been trying a little too hard to make a “serious” erotic film.