The Casebook of Jess Franco

aka Diary of a Nymphomaniac, Sinner

Directed by Jess Franco
Screenplay by Jess Franco, Elizabeth Ledu de Nesle
Music by Vladimir Cosma, Jean-Bernard Raiteux

Cast: Montserrat Prous, Kali Hansa, Anne Libert, Howard Vernon, Jacqueline Laurent, Doris Thomas

86 minutes


Mario and Roderick Gauci review the DVD-R.

This was my 20th excursion into Jess Franco territory which I watched via a DVD-R dub, the first one I’ve viewed of the kind; actually, it was a toss-up between this and 99 WOMEN (196 9) but since neither film’s title was indicated on their respective case, I just inserted the first one that came to hand in my DVD player! Unfortunately in this case, the VHS original was not in very good shape, resulting in frequent loss of both picture and sound – but since this is a De Nesle production, no official DVD release looks to be on the horizon, so it will have to do until that estate’s notorious legal wrangles are finally unbound!

So, how does SINNER fare within the massive and eclectic Franco canon? Well, I’d rate it as average overall, not one of the best I’ve seen but neither is it a total disaster. Still, I have to say that with such an intriguing plotline, I was expecting a more committed approach to the material (but then this IS Franco, after all ); as it is, the film only comes together when the protagonist’s crucial diary is belatedly introduced in our story – but more on that later. The worst of it, perhaps, is its general amateurishness (including the high-pitched English dubbing) though I can see how a reasonably good Widescreen print on DVD, in the original French language, could work wonders with this film!

As is customary with Franco, the film is padded with gratuitous nudity (starting with the very first shot!) that is titillating at first but gets numbing and fairly tedious after a while. Thankfully though, the sex scenes are not particularly graphic this time around; the diary of the original title is infinitely more explicit and, maybe, it’s just as well ! (Actually, this plot ‘device’ goes a long way in excusing the presence of so much bare flesh, once we learn just WHAT makes this particular leading lady tick.)

Every female character in the film is somewhat incongruously depicted as a lesbian (the men, on the other hand, are virtually incidental to the narrative, appearing mainly so as to take sexual advantage of the protagonist!) but they mostly manage to be effective and distinct nonetheless, if a little too one-note for this reason:

·        Montserrat Prous has the more demanding role, obviously, as the ‘sinner’ of the English title and, all in all, she does a satisfactory job of it (she’s certainly one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a Franco film)

·        Anne Libert – the aristocrat who misguidedly ‘schools’ her – and the selfish, uninhibited Kali Hansa (hilariously announcing that since she hates wearing clothes, naturally she became a stripper!) as her female lovers make for quite a contrast

·        Jacqueline Laurent (playing the mixed-up wife of Prous’ ‘final’ client, who discovers almost immediately the truth of the situation, i.e. her husband was the one who had ‘ruined’ the girl to begin with, but only decides to act upon it at the very end – by which time she’s been turned into a lesbian herself!) and Doris Thomas (giving an over-the-top performance as a genial, but ultimately lonely, smut photographer) as the ageing women who, in their way, are also drawn into the girl’s hedonistic life-style

·        Howard Vernon, however, lends the whole film some much needed gravitas as a well-meaning doctor: he invests his brief but pivotal role with surprising humanity and sincerity; his final and, perhaps, inevitable capitulation to Prous’ baser needs (the pained look on his face, as he sees her from his bedroom window sneak inside the clinic against his better judgment, speaks volumes) is remarkably well handled

Other effective moments in the film are: the first rape scene, which is well shot in a fairground setting (and on a moving ferris-wheel to boot!) but rather tame, considering the film’s usually unabashed dwelling on the naked female form (besides Mona Prous, as the end titles would have it, does not convince as a school-girl in pig-tails – she’s simply too tall and shapely for that); the scene where Libert and Prous go for a swim and the camera pulls back so that the screen is filled with the sun’s blinding rays is beautifully done – demonstrating that Franco CAN add an unexpected dash of style to the proceedings at the drop of a hat when the mood strikes him; and the ‘cold turkey’ scene (actually shot in a pretty straightforward manner and effectively underscored by a disorienting musical theme) which is not only this film’s particular highlight but, quite possibly, one of the most memorable scenes in the whole Franco canon!

SINNER has taken the not-too-disreputable 11th place (12th actually, having just watched VAMPYROS LESBOS [1970] ) in my ‘Ranking Franco’ database. Thinking back on all of those I’ve watched so far, it’s beginning to look like the less Franco concentrates on following a ‘logical’ narrative form in his films the better for them (now that’s quite a turnabout for me, I give you that !): this one should have had a more overtly ‘psychedelic’ feel to it (the various exotic nightclub scenes and the ‘groovy’ music, at least, try to steer us in that direction); instead it’s treated as if we were supposed to be watching a serious case-history or some kind of an expose` – when it’s certainly not the case, given that the handling is just too superficial and ‘exploitative’ for that sort of thing! Still, for me at least, it may be best to approach a Franco film as a parallel form of cinema and not think about ‘standard’ cinematic conventions while watching it! To tell you the truth, I had intended to follow this immediately with 99 WOMEN but thought better of it (Franco’s cinema is a bit like a prescription pill, too – one should be careful not to take too much of it at once !), and opted to watch the Laurel & Hardy masterpiece SONS OF THE DESERT (1933) on VHS instead…which, as a matter of fact, proved to be a far more gratifying experience on a personal level – even if I practically knew that film by heart!

In the end, SINNER is not a bad film as Franco films go, but neither is it the penetrating character study which the gripping scenario had promised – or indeed that it COULD have been had the director chosen, for once, to undermine his singular obsession with depicting sex for its own sake on screen! Who’s grumbling?

Review by Mario and Roderick Gauci, copyright 2003