Story of O

Movie Review by Mark Bayross

Starring: Corinne Clery, Udo Kier, Anthony Steel, Jean Gavin

Director: Just Jaeckin

Ever since it was published in 1955, “The Story Of O” has been shrouded in mystery and controversy. It was written by the renowned novelist Dominique Aury, hiding for 40 years behind the alias Pauline Reage, and caused shock and outrage as soon as it hit the shelves. However, public opinion changed in the book’s favour just as quickly – it was awarded the Deux-Magots prize a year later and has since been recognised as a landmark of 20th century French literature.

When “Emmanuelle” director Just Jaeckin made it into a film in 1975, the story once again caused outrage, although it has taken until now, 25 years later, for the film to be granted a British release. So, here it is on DVD, uncut and in glorious widescreen.

“The Story Of O” is an odd little tale. Is it all pure fantasy? The soft focus, lush backdrops and twinkly Mike Oldfield-sounding music certainly give it a dream-like quality. Probably what removes it totally from plausibility is the plot – demure and pretty “O” (played by Corinne Clery) is so in love with her slimeball boyfriend Rene (Jean Gaven) that she willingly subjects herself to endless physical and emotional humiliation in order to prove it. Rene never actually administers it himself, instead preferring to hand her over to a variety of abusers and watch emotionless on the sidelines.

O (we only ever get to know her by the first letter of her name) is plunged into an underworld of bondage, sexual depravity and lesbianism, but falls (or seems to fall) for the most vociferous of her abusers, Rene’s stepbrother Sir Stephen (Anthony Steel). The two have an odd relationship – he is kind and paternal one minute, cold and brutal the next, but then not a lot makes sense in this film.

“The Story Of O” is undoubtedly intended to be seen as an erotic fantasy, played out against a variety of exotic locations (much like “Emmanuelle”), although our heroine does seem to have some motive for her bizarre submissiveness. As such, it has all the qualities of a dream – once you’ve finished watching it, you’ll be hard pushed to remember much of it except a couple of key moments. The sex, sorry erotic, scenes are so tame and fake, you’ll wonder why it’s taken the BBFC a quarter of a century to grant the film a release.

The DVD comes with an interview with the director, a couple of silent deleted scenes and the original theatrical trailer. The film may be a classic, but it’s very much of its time.

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