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  Bête, La Animal Instincts
Year: 1975
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Stars: Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Hummel, Elizabeth Kaza, Pierre Benedetti, Guy Tréjan, Roland Amontel, Marcel Dalio, Robert Capia, Pascal Rivault, Hassane Fall, Anna Baldaccini, Thierry Bourdon, Mathieu Ravollier, Julien Hanany, Marie Testanière
Genre: Drama, Sex, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: There is to be a marriage tomorrow, but all is not well in the household of the groom, never mind that he and his wife-to-be have never met. It is an arranged union, designed to ensure the estate of Mathurin de l'Esperance (Pierre Benedetti) does not fall irrevocably beyond repair: basically he and his family need the money left to the heiress fiancée, Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel). However, there are complications as Mathurin has little interest in marriage, preferring to attend to his animals and duties around the grounds, and he has to receive the blessing of the Cardinal before the event can go ahead...

Walerian Borowcyk holds an unusual place in the annals of erotic filmmakers in that he had the imagination and style to be judged on the level of an artist, skirting around sleaze for the most part. A former animator from Poland who found his calling in France, he was probably best known for either Immoral Tales, an anthology movie, or this surreal flight of fancy, La Bête. Not that you get much weirdness until the film is almost two-thirds of the way over, but when it finally arrives it is unforgettable; up to that point, the story concerns itself with the plight of Lucy.

Repression is the order of the day here, with head of the de l'Esperance clan Pierre (Guy Tréjan) struggling to keep the family fortune going in the most boorish manner possible, even resorting to murder to ensure things go his way. The atmosphere that innocent Lucy enters into is a stifling one, both socially and sexually; socially we see that Mathurin is nobody's idea of marriage material (not even his own) no matter how kind and accommodating Lucy will be, and the sexual side is brought out when we see the manservant Ifany (Hassane Fall) and his constantly interrupted attempts to enjoy himself with the daughter of the house.

The time period this is set in is obscure, as although Lucy looks to be something out of the nineteen-twenties, the daughter, Clarisse (Pascale Rivault) is very much the seventies woman. The plot is so wrapped up in the court intrigue as the reluctant Mathurin is prepared for his nuptials that it's a relief when finally Lucy gets down to the business of her fantasies (or are they fantasies? Could it be what she dreams actually happened?). We have already seen how nobody in this film can achieve satisfaction, with Clarisse reduced to masturbating with the headboard of her bed (!), and unfortunately Lucy is no different.

She is certainly not going to get anywhere with her future husband, and all the way through the presence of nature, the bestial side of life on planet Earth, makes itself felt with frequent interludes for horses mating (this particularly captivates Lucy, who snaps a few photos with her instant camera) or snails crawling along - even the pet cat seems part of this infringing on the human world. This reaches its climax (literally) with Lucy's dream, a segment originally intended for Immoral Tales but dropped, where a L'Esperance of yore (Sirpa Lane) encounters a randy beast in the woods. The Beast, sort of a cross between a bear and a wolf but patently a man in an unconvincing costume, cannot get satisfaction either although he has his sights set on the woman, and after a chase she comes around eventually in sequences that you'd have to go some way to beat for oddness - or casual offence, come to that. The twist at the end, where Lucy's horniness seems to have had a detrimental effect on Mathurin, is like little else in cinema, arty or otherwise. A curio, then, but novel with it, dodgy with its borderline racism and sexism as it is.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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