vt Sweet Violence; vt Sweet Ecstasy
France / 88 minutes / bw / Artedis, Paris-Inter-Production, Contact Dir: Max Pecas Pr: Joël Lifschutz Scr: Jacques Aucante, G.M. Dabat, Max Pecas Cine: Marc Fossart, Roger Duculot Cast: Pierre Brice, Elke Sommer, Vittoria Prada, Christian Pezey, Jenny Astruc, Michelle Bardollet (i.e. Michèle Bardollet), Robert Darame, Michel Gordon, Lionel Bernier, Brigitte Suard, Mitzouko (i.e., Mitsouko), Pringle Conrad, Robert Barre, Jacques Bezard, Roger Rudel, Agnès Spaak, Dinan, Claire Maurier.
At a theater on the Riviera where his much older sister, Claire Maurier (herself), is starring in a new play, Olivier (Pezey) meets a young Italian actress, Barbara (Prada), and the two are instantly attracted. When they go for a drink, they meet up with a group of rich, hooligan students led by the political-science major Philippe Maître (Brice). Maître’s girl Elke (Sommer) takes a shine to Olivier and, with Maître’s permission, sets out to seduce him. Olivier finds himself responding to Elke’s flamboyant charms, and Barbara leaves alone. It’s soon plain to us that Maître is a control freak and borderline sociopath, and that he enjoys playing sadistic little power games with the rest of the gang as his puppets; the sole exception is Elke, who, while most of the time as cold and cruel as he is, can be occasionally shocked into decency . . . and rebellion.
The parents of one of the gang, Mick (Astruc), have left her in charge of their villa and yacht, the Douce Violence, while they vacation in the US. Naturally she invites the whole troop to infest the place. That night a score of young folk party aboard the yacht, along with a middle-aged Russian, Popov (Dinan). Elke takes Olivier on deck and throws herself at him; when he explains that he longs for her not just for a quick bang but for afterwards, that he doesn’t do meaningless sex, she stalks off contemptuously.
The beautiful people panic as the yacht catches fire.
Among the other party animals are the heartless girl Choute (Bardollet) and the boy who loves her and whom she loves to taunt, Charly (Darame). Choute blatantly offers herself to Olivier; Charly, mad with grief and jealousy, accidentally starts a fire. In scenes of screaming panic everyone leaps overboard and crowds onto the lifeboats. It’s only when the yacht’s engines start to blow that they realize Elke, who had been bound hand and foot as part of a mock slave auction, has been left behind belowdecks. Olivier swims back to rescue her from the blazing wreckage, aided eventually by a reluctant Maître.
Next day Elke spurns Olivier viciously. She loathes gratitude, she tells him.
Maître’s new game is to instruct his toadies all to give the cold shoulder to Charly for having started the fire. Olivier’s the only one to have the guts to stand up to the martinet and be companionable to the desolated youth. Seeing this, Elke has one of her rare fits of warmth. Yet she’s part of the “prosecution” when Charly is lured late at night to a ruin nearby and sentenced by Maître to be stripped, whipped and spat upon by the gang. Olivier arrives on a rescue mission and one of the others drives a car at him, knocking him to the ground. Again Elke briefly shows compassion
But again, next day, she is coldly rejecting. Olivier challenges Maître to a fight; Maître responds that he doesn’t fight, but will instead engage Olivier in a contest of nerve that involves each leaping blindfold from a high platform . . .
Moments later, clinging on by his fingertips, Olivier looks up to see his nemesis, Maitre (Pierre Brice).
Douce Violence attempts to emulate other, far better movies of its day, such as La Dolce Vita (1961), in its depiction of angst and ennui among the brightly fluttering poor little rich kids; at the same time, though, its intention is clear to deliver lots of close-ups of pretty girls wearing not very much . . . but enough that the movie’s in no danger of becoming a skinflick. The they-don’t-quite-make-it sex scene between Elke and Olivier offers an astonishing feat of choreography as somehow, defying all odds, one or other of Sommer’s nipples doesn’t quite pop into view. Heaven knows how many unsuccessful takes there must have been.
“I hate you,” says Elke as part of the foreplay with Philippe Maitre (Pierre Brice).
In the closing moments, quite as we’d anticipate, Olivier rejects the gang’s form of adolescent Randian narcissism, its selfishness and self-absorption, and its obsessively spiteful lotus-eating, and makes his way back to Barbara, who has healthfully wholesome habits like talking to her pet white dove, walking around in a flamboyant tutu (also white), and painting things. As opposed to Elke, whose ideal is casual sex with no commitments, Barbara makes it clear that there’ll be no sex without the commitment . . . and the next we know the pair are getting married. To ensure the incoming tide of schmaltz doesn’t just lap our ankles, Charly—who’s best man—has finally coaxed love from Choute and Elke has finally melted, making plain her romantic feelings for Maître; at least Maître has the good sense to look disgusted, albeit inextricably trapped.
The soundtrack, done by Georges Garvarentz, is arguably more interesting than the onscreen action and has a couple of very good songs, written by Garvarentz, Charles Aznavour and Clément Nicolas, and sung by Johnny Halliday. The movie itself, though, while it pretends very hard that it has something to say, seems to have at its core nothing but an echoing void.
On Amazon.com: Sweet Violence. A poster for the movie would set you back a bit more: SWEET ECSTASY * SWEET VIOLENCE * ORIGINAL MOVIE POSTER ELKE SOMMER PIN UP!