The Punishment of Anne (1976)

Also known as:
The Image
The Mistress and the Slave

This intense little gem is yet another sexual masterpiece directed by Radley Metzger. Anyone into sado-masochism will get obvious fulfillment by watching the surface physical thrills that Metzger provides. The true fulfillment for this viewer was delving deeper into the themes of dominance and submission that the characters were exploring in their relationships. I won't lie to you though, much of the erotic imagery on display was pretty damned arousing! This is probably one of the best 'erotic' films I've ever seen, because the mind is often stimulated as much as the senses. Metzger lavishes much care on the film in just about every aspect, pushing it towards the level of pure art.

In Paris, at a wealthy literary party, the bored Jean (Carl Parker) again meets Claire (Marilyn Roberts) a woman he's known on and off for some years. She's bored too, and realizes that Jean is becoming fascinated by another young woman at the party, the lovely, blonde Anne (Rebecca Brooke). Jean soon discovers there's a connection between Claire and Anne, but suspects nothing as deep as he's going to discover. Claire invites Jean to join her and Anne for a walk through one of Paris's divine rose gardens. He meets Anne first, but the woman acts like a vacant child before all three of them met up. As their walk progresses, it becomes clearer what Claire and Anne's relationship is all about. Put simply, Anne is a slave to Claire. When Claire commands the submissive Anne to put a rose in her garter belt, she obeys. When Claire forces a rose-thorn into Anne's thigh, drawing blood, Anne seems to experience pleasure. Jean looks on, fascinated. Later, Claire forces Anne to urinate in a secluded part of the garden. At first Anne resists, but after a few slaps from Claire, the girl obeys, squatting and peeing openly in front of Claire and Jean.

A few weeks later, Jean runs into Anne, who is buying a book from a reluctant man at a market. She's like a different person, being forceful and refusing to be dissuaded from obtaining the book. Finally she gets what she wants and offers some indifferent, fleeting conversation with Jean. Later Jean runs into Claire again, and tells her about Anne's behaviour. She says that "the little girl" will have to be punished for her rudeness. Jean considers his ever-present lack of desire for Claire - that the women is too ordered and in control of her life for him. Claire invites Jean over to her place to look at some photographs. When Jean comes over, he sees that they're pictures of the nude Anne in chains, looking for all the world like she's been whipped. The final image is of a different set of hands with painted nails over some female genitalia. Claire looks nervous when this photograph is discovered. Anne appears, and Claire makes her strip and kneel on the floor with her arms in the air. As Claire whips her frantically, Anne fellates Jean to orgasm. Jean begins to become addicted to this arrangement. Later in public, Anne pleasures Jean orally in a car as a policeman looks on obliviously and Claire stands guard.

Claire agrees to let Jean possess Anne for a while. He takes her to a lingerie store and he, Anne and the shopgirl on duty have a threesome. Claire is aroused by this story and they torment Anne in a restaurant by forcing her to stand and be stimulated by Jean and Claire together, who hide their hands under Anne's skirt as the waiter tries to take their orders. Finally, Jean meets Claire and Anne in the gothic dungeon in her home. After bathing and grooming Anne for what lies ahead, they charge their glasses of cognac and begin "the punishment of Anne". After blindfolding the naked girl and forcing her to masturbate both vaginally and anally, they attach her arms to a nasty looking chain-contraption that hoists her upwards. After putting a rubber gag in Anne's mouth, Claire heats some pins and tortures the screaming girl. This is one intense scene and assaults the viewer's senses with a challenging maelstrom of pain like nothing before in the film. It could be too much for some folks out there! Jean wants his turn too, and retrieving a whip, flogs Anne until she can scream no more. As a final act of sexual fulfillment, he frees the exhausted, still chained girl and has sex with her. Planting a kiss on her cheek, Jean suddenly unleashes a fury from Claire.

Ranting, raving and hitting him with a bottle, Claire drives Jean out of her house. She returns to the dungeon, to find the calm Anne turning out the lights. "I'm going to leave now", she says quietly. "But what will I do?" says the distraught Claire. The fantasy has been destroyed by both Jean and Claire's roiling emotions. Anne will no longer play the slave. We realise that she may have been the master all along, gaining pleasure by Claire's willingness to torture her. With Anne gone, Claire again visits Jean, wearing the same outfit he first saw Anne in. Will "everything resolve itself", as the chapter card says? Will a new relationship form with the required dominance and submission these sex-charged people seem to require? What is the significance of the photograph of the hands that did not belong to Anne?

Every relationship requires some form of submission, even without a trace of S&M involved. Metzger, adapting the French novel 'L'image' by Jean de Berg, a pseudonym for Catherine Robbe-Grillet, understands this well. With submission can come pleasure, as the beautiful, willowy Rebecca Brooke playing Anne shows with her wild blue eyes, full of guilt and panicked arousal. Marilyn Roberts plays Claire as cold on the surface, a cruel smile sitting on her hard but beautiful face, but we can feel passion and uncertainty boiling within. It all comes to the surface at the end, that's all I can say. Carl Parker as Jean comes off as a void in the proceedings, easily seduced into Claire's netherworld of sadomasochism, enjoying the pleasures with an empty soul. He's more a device of the plot, to explore the power-play between the two women. Still, wealthy but bored, empty souls are what Metzger often seems to be exploring in films such as The Lickerish Quartet and Camille 2000. They're certainly a fascinating bunch, at least via what they get up to in their never-ending parties and boudoirs.

Metzger's camerawork, music, Paris settings, editing and general craftsmanship are all top-notch. Some of the dialogue and dubbing is slightly banal at times, but it's a very minor quibble. The occasional electronic tinges in the score add to the subtle decadence of what's unfolding before us. This was a time where the director was becoming more and more explicit, so we get to see graphic scenes of fellatio but no hardcore sex sequences. The actual sexual violence is more reflected in character's faces - well, Anne's, anyway- as she's whipped or tortured in some other way. We don't actually see whips flailing against progressively injured flesh. Nonetheless, if you're just beginning to explore cult cinema you'll probably need an open mind when diving into this particular world. With the right mindset and attitude, viewers of sex cinema while have their senses treated and their emotions tested as well.

A true erotic classic, The Punishment of Anne or The Image as it may be better known, should definitely be seen by fans of off-the-wall cinema. It's an experience hard to forget.

© Boris "Ouch!" Lugosi, 2006.

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Review written: 06/21/2006 22:36:50