Remember when I mentioned the movie gems that you can only find at movie festivals? Yesterday I had the honor to watch one of them at Future Film Festival. The much awaited closing movie slash special event Belladonna of sadness had an extra screening added so that more people could see it, and I strongly recommend you to, no, I dare commanding you, go assure yourself a ticket and a spot for tonight (or find it online).
«Some eroticism present» as mentioned during the introduction by one of the Festival’s organizers definitely didn’t give justice to the mesmerizing, enchanting orgy of sultry images that this masterpiece of an anime displays beginning to end, while a constant, magnificent soundtrack closely reminding of the Rock Operas accompanies every moment.
Produced in Japan in 1973, Belladonna of sadness is the final part of Mushi Production’s Animerama trilogy. But unlike the two previous works (Senya Ichiya Monogatari and Cleopatra) it wasn’t written or directed by Osamu Tezuka, master of animation and author of vintage tv classics such as Astroboy and Princess Knight. Also unlike the precedent, lighter movies, it is imbibed with a sense of tragedy and pain.
Loosely based on French historian Jules Michelet’s Satanism and witchcraft, published in 1862, it takes place in an imaginary village of France in the Middle Age, where peasants are oppressed by an evil king that has a complete power over their money, lives and, well, sex.
So begins the tale of Jeanne, a young bride whose virginity is suddenly violated first by the king himself and later by everyone else, with the result of her turning into a witch. With its psychedelic escalation of erotic images and sexual innuendo, the movie follows the pain and pleasures of this incredibly beautiful young creature while she shifts between being a broken hearted victim and surrendering to lust in unexpected ways, just like her hair shifts from lilac to blond to green.
And while Jeanne embraces her rich and controversial (the devil is involved…) sexuality, the screen is a feast of artistic references (Klimt’s paintings above all, but also Tarot imagery and a certain Pre-Raphaelite feel) and a celebration of the psychedelic esthetics, culminating in the “evil orgasm” scene that is the only genuinely funny moment in this rather sombre (but extremely powerful and definitely exciting) film, as well as perhaps the only slightly old-fashioned part in a movie that is overall incredibly enjoyable and well deserving its classic status.
Special mention for the music, courtesy of Masahiko Satoh, wonderfully echoing a specific musical zeitgeist while his wife Chinatsu Nakayama’s voice gives the singing bits a more naive, pop twist . If the still images (that are alternated to animated parts) of Belladonna are so powerful it is also thanks to the way the music emphasises their solemnity or their sensuality. It is difficult not to remain impressed by this kaleidoscopic gem of a movie, so it’s no surprise Future Film Festival chose it as a closing event. And I’m ever so grateful I had the occasion to watch it in its restored (thanks to Cinelicious Pics) form, that also contains a special finale, newly recuperated and missing in the original version, that I won’t tell you and that adds up another nice, “early seventies” feel to this unmissable film.