Director: Roger Vadim
Cast: Annie Girardot, Catherine Deneuve, Robert Hossein, O.E. Hasse
Length: 106 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Release Date: Mar 17, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: French: LPCM 2.0
- Theatrical Trailer
Based on Marquis de Sade’s Justine (or The Misfortunes of Virtue), Vice and Virtue (1963) transposes the setting of its source text to that of German occupied France during the final years of World War II. Director Roger Vadim says of this decision, in the text leading into the film’s opening credits, that to speak of absolutes such as Vice and Virtue, he required a period of humanity when passions had reached their peak. While occupied France is indeed an ideal location for capturing such a period of intense fervor, the question remains whether or not the film itself can inspire similarly impassioned viewers.
Vice and Virtue was released after the pinnacle of Roger Vadim’s explosive film career was already behind him. After his monumental Et Dieu…créa la femme (And God Created Woman) (1956), Vadim became well known, especially in France, for his ability to tap into the sexual energy of his time as well as his penchant for discovering an extraordinary new talent, Brigitte Bardot. Vice and Virtue does indeed offer another instance of Vadim’s ability to discover great actresses as it features Catherine Deneuve in the first major role of an impressive career which persists until this day.The film tells the story of two antithetical sisters, Justine (Catherine Deneuve) and Juliette (Annie Girardot). The sisters comprise the two poles of the films title with Juliette self-professedly being the personification of Vice and Justine being Virtue. This contrast is explicit from the start with Justine’s introduction as a virgin bride, complete with her pristine bridal gown, and Juliette being quickly established as the lascivious mistress of a German officer Named General von Bamberg (O.E. Hasse).
In the opening scene Justine’s fiancé, a member of the resistance named Jean (Jean-Pierre Honoré), is arrested by the Gestapo just before their wedding. Subsequently, Justine begs her sister help save Jean as she is von Bamberg’s mistress and he has a great deal of power. Luckily, Jean manages to escape without the aid of Juliette or von Bamberg. When Justine goes to thank von Bamberg, who she believes was responsible for Jean’s release, she becomes witness to his murder at the hands of an S.S. officer named Colonel Schorndorf (Robert Hossein). Schorndorf sends Justine away to a castle where she and other imprisoned French women are meant to serve the whims and desires of the high-ranking Nazis. As Justine faces the horrors of such a life, Juliette lives in comfort and opulence as the mistress of Schorndorf. In the end the two sisters reunite, Justine refuses to accept the help of her opportunistic sister, and the Nazis and Schorndorf are defeated.Vice and Virtue is shot in gorgeous black and white and Vadim and cinematographer Marcel Grignon take full advantage of the real estate provided by the film’s widescreen aspect ratio (2.35:1). The widescreen allows for some interesting shot compositions, with the major characters’ constantly fluctuating power being signified by the amount of space they take up within the frame. The black and white film stock also enables Vadim and Grignon to play with lighting in such a way as to cast expressionistic shadows on the characters and sets, mirroring the fragmented mental states of characters trapped in a period of intense passion. There is one scene in particular, the torturing of a imprisoned soldier, which takes full advantage of these techniques. This scene also contains the most frequent use of close-ups in the film, creating a contrast between the reactions of Schorndorf and the other Nazis, and those of Juliette. As the severity of the (almost entirely offscreen) torture progresses, Juliette’s face becomes increasingly more grotesque, her expressions of sheer horror and disgust revealing her inner compassion.
Unfortunately, such impassioned formal experimentation is not consistent throughout Vice and Virtue. For the most part the story is told without much flourishes, and despite strong performances all around the characters never quite become more than caricatures of their namesakes.
Since Gaumont’s logo appears at the start of the film, it’s safe to assume that Kino Lorber has accessed Gaumont’s 2k restoration of Vice and Virtue, which came out on Blu-ray in France last year. This is a superlative restoration, with a rich grayscale tone pallet, and deep, solid shadows. Occasionally, detail is crushed in the darkest areas–a fault that is most apparent in the black Nazi uniforms–but this is not a serious flaw, and may even be part of the film’s intended look. The image is nice and sharp, but not artificially so. Film grain is fine and evenly distributed, save for the occasional stock war footage, which is to be expected. There is no sign of DNR filtering.
The original French soundtrack is very well accommodated by the standard mono audio track provided on this restoration. It has fine body and range, yet dialogue sounds sharp and crystal clear. There is neither hiss nor age-related pops and crackling.
This is a bare-bones release, with only the original French trailer provided as an extra bonus.
While the film does feature some strong performances, intriguing shot compositions, and noteworthy instances of light and shadow play, Vice and Virtue fails to match the inflammatory sentiments provided in Vadim’s earlier efforts, such as And God Created Woman. Vice and Virtue is for the most part disappointingly tame and often struggles to maintain the passion that one would expect from a film based on the characters and situations of Marquis de Sade.