The Punishment (1973)

Rating: C-

Dir: Pierre-Alain Jolivet
Star: Karin Schubert, Georges Géret, Amidou, Claudie Lange
a.k.a. La Punition

This is a tricky film to review, because there isn’t necessarily very much to write about. It’s one of a slew of somewhat similarly-themed films, best described as “arthouse S&M”, which came out in France during the seventies – the most well-known of these is probably Story of O,. I thought originally this must have been riding on the coat-tails of O‘s success. However, turns out The Punishment was released a couple of years earlier. It perhaps says something that, while The Story of O was eventually passed uncut by the BBFC in 2000, it doesn’t appear that this predecessor has ever received a UK certificate [at least, a search of the BBFC website turns up nothing]

It’s perhaps understandable: the film is probably less releasable than it was at the time. Now, even relatively weak BDSM sauce like 365 Days provokes a storm of moral outrage on social media. This would likely cause the same people’s heads to explode, if they’d noticed it was, apparently, on Netflix at one point. [Still seems to be, in more “morally slack” countries like Denmark] It’s the story of Britt (Schubert), an escort who becomes a bit unwilling to fulfill the needs of her clients. The organization she works for isn’t having any of that, so she’s whisked away to a tatty chateau near Lyon for a spot of “re-education”. Which basically consists of her being abused for an hour or so.

That’s largely it, plotwise, and is why I’ve spent 35% of the review musing vaguely around the concept, in lieu of the usual synopsis. I think there may be some pretensions at political commentary, going by early statements such as “I refuse to consider women as a sexual object anymore. She shouldn’t be a decoration. It’s a form of fascism. Perhaps it’s the most acute form of fascism.” The rest of the film basically does nothing except depict women in general, and Britt in particular, as purely sexual objects – and not for their own pleasure either, just as playthings for men. There’s not much in the way of character development, until the end, when a “cured” Britt returns to Paris. Although, how cured is she, exactly?

In lieu of this, you get a lot of Schubert, who is on-screen for almost the entire movie, with the costume department engaged elsewhere, if you catch my drift. There are brief moments when something more interesting shines through, such as when it appears Britt is about to be released. Instead, she turns to her captor, telling him “I won’t give you the satisfaction of catching me,” and returns to her room. It’s all rather enigmatic and utterly, utterly French. I will say the ending does pack more punch than I’d expect, with the shadowy figures running the whole business, having had enough of the problems caused by Britt’s rebellious streak. I’d be hard-pushed to say it justifies the low-key grimness of the previous ninety minutes.