Jul 14, 2013

Brigade mondaine

If any filmmaker restored my faith in exploitation cinema, it is undoubtedly the assumedly pseudonymous French auteur Jacques Scandelari, a man who essentially turned cinematic sleaze, sacrilege, and sodomy into a vogue and seductive art from, at least for those few lucky individuals familiar with his work. Adapting a novel by the Marquis de Sade to a strangely fitting psychedelic setting with Beyond Love and Evil (1971) aka La philosophie dans le boudoir and concocting probably the most seedy and sleazy yet artsy sadomasochistic leather-fag flick ever assembled with New York City Inferno (1978) aka Cock Tales, Scandelari surely had a sharp, striking, and singular vision that stood out among his mostly artistically meritless cinematic compatriots. Amazingly, Scandelari managed to direct at least three of his greatest films— New York City Inferno (1978), Monique (1978) aka Flashing Lights aka New York After Midnight, and Victims of Vice (1978) aka Brigade mondaine—in a single year, but essentially quit filmmaking after that, only going on to direct the occasional short 'serious' documentary like Baryshnikov's Gaiete Parisienne (1988) for the BBC. Out of all of his films, Brigade mondaine—the first of three films featuring a soundtrack by popular frog disco producer Cerrone and based on a series of then-popular trashy crime novels of the same name—is probably Scandelari’s most accessible and 'conventional' work, which is in part due to its lack of gay pornography and homoerotic imagery, as well as its incessant appearances by totally nude and under-the-influence women, but also because it is a fairly ‘conventional’ sort of ‘Kojak meets Abel Ferrara meets Miami Vice’ storyline. Like all of Scandelari’s works, Brigade mondaine is almost virtually impossible find today and it is doubtful that it will ever be released in any form home format ever again, especially in North America (where it has never had a home media release). In fact, the ‘hardcore disco’ soundtrack by Cerrone is much more popular today than the film is. Opening with a blonde babe who is high as a kite being blown away with a shotgun by a mysterious individual of the seemingly feminine sort wearing a ski mask and a leatherjacket, Brigade mondaine is a totally titillating, thrilling, and tasteless yet suavely assembled cinematic tale set in Paris, France featuring quasi-corrupt cops into strippers and sadomasochism, voyeuristically debauched aristocrats who are into gazing at infantile modern art and pancake makeup and SS regalia-sporting prostitutes humping Scorpio Rising-esque motorcycles, designer drugs that heighten orgasms but ultimately enslave and brain damage the user, sneaky snake boyfriends who sell their girlfriends into sex slavery via drug/prostitution rings, and what is probably the only disco soundtrack in all of cinema history that does not inspire the viewer to want to jump out of a window in relief like anti-hero Alex from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), Brigade mondaine is a virtual celluloid night club from late-1970s Sodom that reminds viewers that not all cops and blueblood Counts are uptight sexual cripples. 

 During the first couple minutes of Brigade mondaine, a beauteous blonde chick wearing nothing but a raincoat is killed by a masked assailant in fetishistic black leather. When the ravishing victim falls down to her premature death, her raincoat gratuitously swings open and her blood-soaked and now-unclad body is exposed for the world to see in a scene of overwhelming vulnerability that sums up the essence of Brigade mondaine. To his rather strange over excitement, an oversexed and overworked police sergeant in the vice squad named Boris Corentin (Patrice Valota) is assigned to homicide to discover the dubious drug-related death of the shotgun bullet-riddled blonde. It must be a really personal case for Boris because he is a sadomasochist who is into strikingly rough sex, especially choking, and blonde ‘sex workers,’ and the wanton and drug-addled babe that was killed was just his type. Through his spectacular detective work, Boris learns a ecstasy-like drug has hit the streets that initially intensifies orgasms but eventually turns the user into a braindead zombie who “takes pleasure in his/her degradation,” which makes for the perfect slave for a prostitution ring, which the blonde murder victim was part of. Meanwhile, a naïve young girl named Micheline (Odile Michel in her second film role, who started her acting career quite differently with Diane Kurys’ Peppermint Soda (1977) aka Diabolo menthe) starts a seemingly magical and heavenly relationship with a half-gay-like hairdresser named Patrick Morel (Patrick Olivier), a character who seems to be modeled after Manson Family victim Jay Sebring, a seedy Hollywood hairdresser that was deeply immersed in the drug/crime world. While promising her everything plus the world, Patrick soon has Micheline engaging in a unhealthy ménage à trois with his dyke hairdresser compatriot Peggy (Marie-Georges Pascal) and before she knows it, the terrible twosome make the formerly wholesome girl a druggy sex slave. Eventually, Micheline is forced by her kidnappers to take the name “Chloé” and she becomes the erotic plaything of a debauched and nearly elderly aristocratic and art collector named Count Paul-Henri Vaugoubert de Saint-Loup (Jacques Berthier). When Sergeant Boris finally discovers the pernicious involuntary prostitution of young girls by Patrick and Peggy, as well as Count de Saint-Loup’s role, he absurdly asks his stripper/porn star girlfriend Anne (Florence Cayrol) to be his “goat” in the Hindi sense in a precarious plot twist that only gets all the more ridiculous as the film progress. A totally titillating temptress, Anne has no problem enticing de Saint-Loup, especially after doing some ‘performance art’ in the form of wearing nothing but a SS officer’s hat and G-string while humping a motorcycle and animal furs. Quite infatuated with his new catch, the corrupt Count even gives his sex slave Chloé to Anne as a present, which ultimately leads to his demise and Mistress Micheline’s inevitable escape from being a somewhat involuntary victim of vice. 

 One of the greatest aspects of Brigade mondaine, especially when compared to similarly themed Hollywood films, is the film's almost complete and utter lack of a moral compass as a wildly wanton and ridiculously morally reckless work that features a less than thin line between good guys and bad guys, hence the its porn-like alternate title Victims of Vices, which calls into question who are/is the victim(s) and whether or not they are a victim of vice and/or the victim of the police vice squad. Featuring a conspicuously corrupt cop who virtually prostitutes his stripper girlfriend, who herself seems to enjoy her uncover work a little bit too much, just to crack a criminal case, as well as a victim who enjoys the vice, including lesbianism and starring in pornography, until it gets a bit too spicy, Brigade mondaine works best as an ostensibly intentionally soulless yet succulently stylized piece of sexy celluloid sleaze that acts as one of the most unflatteringly honest depictions of its libertine post-hippie era. Created in the wake of the death of the so-called ‘sexual revolution,’ Brigade mondaine portrays the natural brutal byproducts of an intrinsically intemperate zeitgeist that tried to pass off self-indulgent hedonism and reckless ‘romantic’ sexual relationships as serious and liberating political idealism of the ‘New Left’ as schemed by hostile Hebrews like Herbert Marcuse. Of course, the cocaine and popper-fueled disco subculture that reached its peak in popularity during the late 1970s acted as the final nail in the coffin for the imaginary utopia of ‘peace and love’ and confirmed what the sexual revolution was really about: cheap and shallow sex, the death of the family and traditional romantic relationships, unquenchable materialism and lack of true spirituality, and all around mindless self-indulgence at any cost. Of course, like victim Micheline of Brigade mondaine, one inevitably becomes more deleteriously enslaved to sex, drugs and rock n roll (or in this case, disco) than they ever would be by religion. A forgotten minor master of cinematic libertinage, Jacques Scandelari, not unlike seedy celluloid surrealist Alberto Cavallone (Blue Movie, Blow Job), was an idiosyncratic exploitation filmmaker whose unfortunately rather small oeuvre is infinitely more interesting than revered exploitation hacks like Jesús Franco and Joe D'Amato, who for every decent film they made, have twenty more that have made a mockery of their trade. While not Scandelari’s greatest effort, Brigade mondaine proves, if nothing else, that dark disco music and topless seductresses with totenkopfs emblems on their S&M SS hats can make for one hell of a cheap yet captivating celluloid cocktail.  Forget Saturday Night Fever (1977), Brigade mondaine is rare and indisputable proof that not all disco music is gay, even if it was directed by a rampantly gay porn producer.

-Ty E

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