Mar 10, 2014
Undoubtedly, if I ever took away wisdom away as a teenager while observing naive nubile young girls of the same age, it is they tended to consciously overlook the unflattering (and, oftentimes, downright immoral and/or repugnant) attributes of an older and more experienced fellow who had caught their fancy, even going to ungodly and oftentimes self-destructive extremes (i.e. using hard drugs, peddling their puss away for nothing, attempting to pantomime that behavior of blacks, etc.) to catch the attention of their potential male suitors, yet unfortunately far too few films have tackled this subject, at least in a truly perversely poignant sort of fashion, though the French used to seem to have a knack for it. In fact, two semi-obscure frog flicks from the 1970s, Michel Mardore’s Le sauveur (1971) aka The Savior and Joel Seria's Marie-poupée (1976) aka Marie, the doll, stand out in my mind as the best and ultimately most orgasmically ominous films dealing with the subject of poor little unwitting Lolitas succumbing to sinister men with uniquely unhinged ulterior motives. Undoubtedly, what makes The Savior especially interesting, if not somewhat convoluted, is that it is an allegorical war flick set in rural Vichy France during the Second World War and features then-washed-up bisexual actor Horst ‘The German James Dean’ Buchholz (The Magnificent Seven, One, Two, Three)—a seemingly tiny Teuton that more resembles a Mestizo soccer player than a member of the master race—in the Svengali-like role of a psychopathic SS officer pretending to be an injured English paratrooper who exploits the sexual, maternal, and romantic longings of a virginal 14-year-old French farm girl so as to find imperative inside information and ultimately squash members of the frog commie resistance. The debut feature film of a man that is better known for being one of the most important French filmmakers of his time (among other things, Mardore has the distinction of being the first person to interview Cinémathèque Française cofounder Henri Langlois) and who would only direct two films during his short-lived filmmaking career (with the seemingly impossible-to-find lesbian-themed flick Le Mariage à la mode (1973) aka Marriage a la Mode being his only other film), The Savior is what some might describe as an ‘Artsploitation’ flick as a work that somewhat successfully manages to synthesize elements of arthouse cinema and the war film and spy film genres with that of softcore erotica and even Nazisploitation. Admittedly, if it could not be easily verified online, one might assume the lead actress of The Savior, Muriel Catalá (Faustine et le bel été aka Faustine and the Beautiful Summer, First Time with Feeling), was not much older than Eva Ionesco when she appeared in the erotic cuming-of-age flick Maladolescenza (1977) penned by Fassbinder/Herzog collaborator Peter Berling. By the conclusion of The Savior, the female protagonist will be played by the most pernicious of psychopathic players, thus making for a strangely ‘penetrating’ antifascist propaganda piece that uses the emotional destruction of a voluptuous teenage girl as a nasty and arguably sleazy means to influence the viewer to hate SS men more than Satan himself.
It is summer of 1943 during the middle of the Second World War in the relatively quiet French countryside and one day while walking around a small stream not far from the family farm, pretty 14-year-old peasant girl Nanette (Muriel Catalá) spots a handsome and charismatic, if not small and swarthy, gentleman named Claude (Horst Buchholz) with minor injuries who claims to be a English soldier looking to hookup with some good resistance fighters and thus has a pathological hatred of krauts. When nymph Nanette remarks that she likes how Germans are “tall and blond” and how she has “known Germans that are nice,” Claude matter-of-factually states, “It was the Germans that wanted the war” as if he were the most snobby self-satisfied Brit in the entire world. While it is dubious whether or not that it was indeed the Germans that were the only ones that wanted the war, there is no question that hyper horny teen Nanette wants to blitzkrieg Claude’s bones and she is willing to go to great lengths to the hide the supposed English man on her parent's property to achieve that goal. In a rather juvenile attempt to get Claude in her panties, Nanette offers to ‘play doctor’ with the mysterious soldier, but he is much too old to play such games and thus the all-hot-and-bothered teen takes a more forward approach by totally stripping off all her clothes and getting into bed with him. Of course, Nanette eventually gets what she wants in terms of carnal knowledge and the two subsequently frolic around gaily in the nude in a stream like two hippie love birds, but when the teen temptress tells Claude she loves him, he does not reciprocate her proclamation of love. In reciprocation for sex, Nanette gives Claude information about local French resistance fighters. Of course, little does Nanette realize that Claude is more interested in members of the resistance than their cross-generational non-romantic affair.
Eventually, Nanette has the moronic and ultimately deleterious idea to tell her father (Roger Lumont) about Claude’s presence, which results in her mensch ultimately being taken away from her as he is forced to do manual labor to earn his keep. Pathologically pissed and lovelorn her man has been taken away, naughty Nanette decides to have Claude killed (after all, if she can’t have him, no one will!) by going to a local fascist collaborator named Monsieur Monnery (Michel Delahaye), whose sons (who look rather swarthy, if not Hebraic!) are both in the French volunteer Charlemagne division of the SS, and tell him about the ostensible English soldier. Lying like a seasoned female psychopath at the mere at of 14 in a feeble attempt to appease her heartbroken female fury, Nanette pleads to Monnery with a perfect puppy dog pout, “he [Claude] forced me…he made me…you know…Monsieur Monnery…I want you to find him…and kill him.” Unfortunately, Nanette’s plans fall through and she is soon captured by a SS man, who takes her to her man Claude, who is, rather curiously, now sporting an elegant SS uniform. In a quite prideful meta-megalomaniac manner (at one point, he proudly proclaims, “GOD? I AM God.”), Claude lets Nanette she was merely a pretty pawn in the game, stating, “I know you hate yourself because you’ve committed two unpardonable crimes. Paradoxical crimes. You denounced a hero…and you sheltered a traitor. Your feeling of guilt will follow you all your life. It will stick to your skin. You’ll be gay as usual then without warning, then when you least expect it you’ll go back and relive those early days. You’ll be…A living ghost.” Of course, Nanette, being a stupid young girl still loves her mass murderer of a man Claude, even after he kills Monsieur Monnery and some of her relatives. As she watches emotionally paralyzed from Claude’s souped up Aryan automobile, all the women and children of her village around rounded up in a building while men are killing via firing squad. Indeed, Claude wastes no time in liquidating every single personal in the village, even Nanette’s parents, declaring of the sadistic spectacle to the 14-year-old dame, “The terrorists have been wiped out. Only you and I will know the truth. That’s…our marriage…our link…our indissoluble bond. Even though we may never see each other again.” Needless to say, being the only surviving member of her village, Nanette develops something that is soul-destroying that transcends simple survivor's guilt. Flash forward to the present and Claude is now a capitalist living under the alias of ‘Monsieur Müller’ and he comes to visit Nanette, who is now an overweight housewife with a number of rugrats, at her village, which has been totally rebuilt, thus more than hinting that The Savior was inspired by the Oradour-sur-Glane and Maillé Massacres committed by the SS in the summer 1944, which resulted in the destruction of two French villages (which were later rebuilt) and its inhabitants. Clearly haunted by the past and no longer a dumb little girl, Nanette takes her revenge, shouting “For you, Englishman!” before annihilating her first great love in front of her husband and young children.
In its daunting, if not decidedly decadent and carelessly crude, depiction of a lecherous French lass who goes from being a resistance-fighter-bashing collaborator to a staunch anti-Nazi of the rather bloodthirsty yet maternal sort, The Savior is indubitably a piece of aesthetically pleasing leftist agitprop that manages to even outdo Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) in terms of depicting SS men as one-dimensional demons (indeed, Spielberg’s depiction of Amon Goeth is even more nuanced and sympathetic!) and thus the film fails to be serious celluloid art, yet it certainly is a must-see work as a sort of counter work to Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974), albeit much less pretentious. Additionally, The Savior is also a sort of heterosexual celluloid equivalent to Philippe Vallois’ Nous étions un seul homme (1979) aka We Were One Man—a queer World War II flick depicting an unlikely sexual relationship between a wounded German soldier and a half-autistic French farmboy—as a work that manages to aberrantly yet artfully depict wayward love during wartime in the rural froglands. Indeed, like the underrated Italian flick One Woman’s Lover (1974) aka Donna è bello directed by Sergio Bazzini and starring lapsed Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro as a fascist terrorist who seduces the sexually repressed wife of a sexless commie ideologue, The Savior is a little slice of sleazy celluloid divinity that manages to possess a seemingly immaculate combination of artiness, exploitation trash, gratuitous violence, and quasi-tasteful to totally tasteless eroticism. Undoubtedly, as someone who almost vomits at the prospect of having to watch another formulaic World War II film and as an oftentimes unappeasable individual who finds himself increasingly equally uninterested in watching the splatter swill of Herschell Gordon Lewis and the aimless ‘Avant-gardism’ of Jean-Marie Straub, I found The Savior to be almost like a charmingly cynical gift from the cinematically eclectic cinephile gods, who wallow in cinematic kitsch just as much as cultivated celluloid. Indeed, unlike Godard, Monsieur Mardore proved that French film critics can churn something other than pedantic postmodern twaddle, as The Savior ultimately seems like an arthouse flick made for lumpenproles with a fetishism for John Wayne propaganda war flicks, which is certainly no small achievement.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:18 PM
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