Aug 14, 2013
While Warhol Superstar and sex icon Joe Dallesandro (Flesh, Blood for Dracula) is probably the last person I would peg as capable of portraying a French bourgeois family businessman from the country, he would ultimately give one of his greatest and most underrated performances in such an unlikely role during his post-Warhol period while living it up in Europa. Directed by Polish stop-motion animator turned arthouse pornographer Walerian Borowczyk (Goto, Island of Love, La bête aka The Beast), La marge (1976) aka The Margin aka The Streetwalker would feature Dallesandro teamed up with his European female equivalent, Dutch ‘actress’ and sex icon Sylvia Kristel of Emmanuelle fame in a tragic erotic arthouse romance about a happily married family man who falls under the spell of a Parisian prostitute after learning his young son has drowned and his wife has committed suicide as a result. Totally incapable of getting over his dead wife and holding to his promise to never betray her, Dallesandro's character is incapable of sharing genuine emotion and tenderness to other women, so to fulfill a 'biological' need for sex, he goes to a femme fatale of a fleshpeddler played by Sylvia Kristel that bears a striking resemblance to his wife. A total critical and commercial failure upon its initial release, La marge—arguably auteur Borowczyk's most valiant attempt at entering the mainstream—would be a rare work for the director in that it is not a perverted period piece, but a strikingly modern movie featuring music by Pink Floyd, 10CC and Elton John. Based on the popular 1967 novel of the same name written by Parisian novelist André Pieyre de Mandiargues, whose work Borowczyk would cinematically adapt no less than five times, La marge failed during its premiere in France during the summer of 1976, so the producers had the bright idea to re-title the film Emmanuelle 77 in certain regions to capitalize off of Sylvia Kristel's role in the film, and when it was released in the UK and USA, where it also failed miserably, it was totally butchered via editing and renamed The Streetwalker. To further taint the reputation of the eccentric erotic celluloid masterpiece that is La marge, Borowczyk would later direct Emmanuelle 5 (1987), which on top of not featuring Sylvia Kristel, proved how far the Polish auteur filmmaker’s career and artistic integrity had stagnated to the point where he had to degrade himself to the level of being a for-hire hack pornographer as opposed to one of the greatest makers of idiosyncratic and beauteous blue movies the world has ever known. A film that somehow manages to reconcile misery and melancholy melodrama with rather refined (anti)eroticism, La marge, like a number of Borowczyk’s films, is all but indisputable proof that fine and fetishistic celluloid art does indeed exist.
Sigimond Pons (Joe Dallesandro) is a bourgeois stud and wealthy businessman with a dream life as a more than happily married man with a beauteous, loving wife named Sergine (Mireille Audibert) and a cute little blond baby boy named Antonin (André Falcon). While making love to his wife Sergine and dropping flowers on her face and pubes, Sigimond proudly confess to her that she is both a “giver and gift,” for which she responds, “I promise never to betray you.” Not unsurprisingly, Sigimond responds to his wife by stating, “And I promise you never to betray you,” which ultimately prove to be famous last words (or so the viewer thinks). A man used to living in a quiet place in the country, Sigimond is probably married to the most stunningly statuesque lady in his region, so he is in for quite the surprise when he goes on a business trip to Paris and encounters proletarian prostitutes who are even more gorgeous than his beloved wife. Naturally, Sigimond falls under the succubus-like spell of a wild and wanton working girl named Diana (Sylvia Kristel) who bears a striking resemblance to his wife and on his first night in Paris, he buys her, but soon learns that one time is not enough when erotic electricity comes into play. Revisiting Diana for her services, Sigimond ‘reunites’ with the super sensual streetwalker at a brothel where an elderly woman gets a free show via keyholes and fetishizes every part of her body, rolling chicken eggs around her genitals in a Bataille-esque manner, kissing and licking her legs and feet for an extended period of time, and eventually penetrating her softly from behind. Naturally, Diana’s pimp becomes enraged when his living property has fallen for her John, which certainly makes for bad business. Luckily for the pimp, both Diana and Sigimond are too far gone and cursed as people to last as a couple.
While many viewers of La marge seem to think that Sigimond is cheating on his wife with Diana due to the film cutting straight from being with his family to picking up prostitutes in Paris, this is simply not the case. Indeed, while Sigimond does discuss traveling to Paris for business at the beginning of La marge, this is not the actual trip depicted in the film, which is not revealed until near the conclusion of the work, but a subsequent one after the protagonist has learned his son has drowned and his wife has committed suicide due to her grief. Even in her death, Sigimond stays faithful to Sergine, hence why he buys a prostitute (simply to satisfy a sexual need) and most importantly and tellingly, a prostitute that looks very much like his deceased wife. When Sigimond and Diana’s ‘relationship’ begins to take on a more emotional feel, including the buying of presents and the prostitute giving her John a blowjob, it naturally falls apart as neither character is able nor willing to love the other as they are both emotionally destroyed individuals whose internal wounds have never healed. Realizing he will never be able to go on and forget his wife, Sigimond naturally decides to commit suicide by shooting himself one early morning in his luxury sports car, but not before showing his anger at God by stating, “And yet I’ve never killed…never hurt anyone, never stolen or told many lies. I don’t recall ever having harmed anybody” and turning down an eager streetwalker that not does not even bear the slightest resemblance to his sweet Sergine. Naturally, Diana continues doing what she does best: pawning her puss to the highest bidder.
Featuring black midgets basking in fat French divas singing on TV, posh pedomorphic twinks arrogantly attempting to get down and dirty with Dallesandro, pretty prostitutes trying desperately to peddle their soft good via free samplings, hotel maids playing with their tits in front of mirrors, and a clearly sexually repressed old woman who gets her kicks by peeping through keyholes, La marge is not just a decadent downer, but a totally titillating, borderline tragicomedy with strikingly strange surrealist moments that make Borowczyk’s film the closest thing to a melodramatic Dadaist skin flick. Like a patently pessimistic European erotic arthouse take on the criminally underrated American cult flick Buster and Billie (1974), La marge is a defiantly dark romance that will chill the viewer to the bones in its visually gorgeous yet emotionally grating depiction of a highly likeable man who loses everything that is dear to him and a cold and ultimately unlovable woman whose ‘career’ requires her to sell her soul and sensuality and refrain from real human warmth and love. Despite its exquisite depiction of eroticism and the unclad female form, La marge is ultimately an audaciously anti-erotic work in retrospect featuring ominous and foreboding tableaux and melancholy melodrama that makes sex seem like a perennial sickness in its depiction of a lethally lovelorn man who, despite his undying love for a dead woman, still needs to fulfill a biological need, which he does by turning sex into a commodity that he can buy. Considering Dallesandro’s background as an ex-hustler and Sylvia Kristel’s background as a victim of child molestation at the age of nine, the two leads of La marge also bring a certain tragic authenticity to the film that could not have been contrived by mere method actors. Bringing a sort of nihilistic empathy to the prostitute and John like no film before or after it, La marge is an aesthetically radical reminder of the sort of broken and wounded people who get involved in buying or working in prostitution. For those who might get a cheap thrill by seeing Joe Dallesandro receive an awkward blowjob to Pink Floyd, La marge will prove to be a major disappointment akin to a botched orgasm as a perverse parable that will more likely pierce your soul than arouse your prick.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:59 PM
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