Radley Metzger, the director who gave us The Opening of Misty Beethoven, and Barbara Broadcast, made this movie right before he went hardcore. It is one of his best and most intriguing films, based on the book, L’Image by Jean de Berg, a pen name of Catherine Robbe-Grillett, the wife of noted French author Alain Robbe-Grillett (The Erasers).|
The Image is a psycho-sexual drama in which Jean (Carl Parker) and Claire (Marilyn Roberts) play out an extended seduction with Anne (Mary Mendum) serving as their battleground while attending to her own desires.
Jean meets Claire at a party. Though he has known her for years, and considers her to be an attractive woman, she has never aroused any real emotion in him. Claire spends her time staring at a beautiful young woman, dressed all in white. Jean asks Claire who she is. Claire answers, “Just a young model.” “And?” “And, she belongs to me.” Claire adds, “You can touch her if you like. You'll see, it's very pleasant.”
Claire invites Jean to go with them on the following day to a rose garden, where Anne is punished for picking a rose against park rules (even though Claire ordered her to). In a secluded area, Claire forces Anne to lift her skirt high, exposing her bare thighs and sex. In punishment, Claire pricks Anne's thigh with a rose thorn.
A week or so later, a chance meeting between Jean and Claire on the street draws Jean fully into the off-beat sexual relationship between the two women. Claire invites Jean to see some photographs she had taken of Anne. They show Anne in successive stages of undress, bound in chains and suspended, blindfolded, screaming. The final photograph of Anne shows her collapsed on the floor, her body covered with whip marks. One more photograph shows hands that obviously belong to Claire. Jeans says, “This photograph there, is that still Anne?” Claire says dryly, “Who else could it be?”
Anne is then summoned and told she will be punished for having been rude to Jean when she came across him at a book stall a few days earlier. Anne removes her clothing and after several rounds of introductory abuse, ends up kneeling in front of the seated Jean, her wrists chained to the armrests of his chair, and is whipped. She is then forced to perform oral sex on Jean as Claire fingers her to orgasm. The duo is now a trio.
Claire gives little Anne to Jean to have whenever he wants her, to amuse himself with her however he pleases. Anne is repeatedly abused sexually by both Jean and Claire in public. She performs oral sex on Jean in a parked car, a telephone booth, and a pissoir. Never allowed to wear panties, Anne stays still in a posh restaurant while Jean reaches under the table to push small vegetables into her vagina. Jean takes Anne shopping for lingerie and ends up with the mostly-naked Anne performing oral sex the shopgirl (Valerie Marron, credited as Yvette Hiver), who in turn goes down on Jean. Following the shopping trip, Jean and Anne meet Claire in a tea room where the standing Anne is forced to give the party’s order as she is being finger-fucked from behind by both Jean and Claire.
In her climactic scene, Anne is suspended from an iron chandelier, naked and bit-gagged. Claire and Jean take turns torturing her, Claire by poking her with sharp cheese pick, and Jean by beating her with a whip that Anne herself bought that morning for this very moment. In torturing Anne, all pretense between Jean and Claire is laid to rest. Claire sits in the shadows while Jean whips Anne savagely, perhaps wishing it were her who was on the receiving end of Jean’s attack. Once Anne is past the point of responding to the blows, Jean takes her down to the floor and enters her roughly. Her two tormentors having done all they can to her, Anne decides to leave, which she had been free to do all along.
Claire is now distraught, with no intermediary between her submissive desires and Jean’s urge to dominate her. The next morning she goes to Jean’s apartment and submits herself to him, naked, and kneeling with her arms raised, in the same fashion that she had required of Anne in the beginning. Everything has resolved itself. End.
The Image is about sexual power: who has it, how it's expressed. There are hints that Anne has a dominating personality, submitting herself to Claire's whims only because it excites her. Thus, Anne could be catering to her own needs by using Claire, while Claire seems satisfied enough that Anne obeys her every order without question. Jean, intrigued by the picture he saw earlier of what has to be Claire's hands, and which she must purposely have shown him, marks time with Anne until her final punishment, which he uses to force Claire to make her real self known to him.
When Anne decides enough is enough, the Jean/Claire relationship drops its pretense. Anne, in essence, swaps roles with the ice-cold Claire.
But let's not have this be a lack of appreciation for what Anne goes through. Mendum's fawn-like beauty and willowy figure heighten both Anne's torment and our desire to see how much she can take (a lot, it turns out). The beatings she receives are muted visually, though, the whip seldom being shown near her body, and only tangentially at that. Their brutality is portrayed by crackling whip-on-skin sound effects, and her vocal reactions. When she screams in pain non-stop for over five minutes in the penultimate scene, you get the idea.
Technically, the film has first-rate production values. All those technical matters, like lighting, set decoration, makeup, wardrobe, hair styling, art direction, cinematography, sound, are all at the top of mainstream standards. Interiors were shot in New York City, exteriors in Paris. The transfer from film to DVD, made from the original negative, is brilliant. It is a lovely movie to watch for that reason alone.
There has never been a mainstream S&M movie like this one. Just Jaeckin’s Story of O comes close, but The Image is more layered and far closer to reality. It is a product of the permissive cinematic standards of the 1970s. Given today’s legal restrictions on film-making, and the social boundaries that have been erected in front of even the consensual S&M treatment of women, there will never be another one like it. This gem needs to be in your S&M movie collection.
To see more of Mendum, her work with Joseph Sarno, under the name Rebecca Brooke, is recommended. Special mention goes to Valerie Marron, a New York hardcore starlet, who was awarded the Grand Prix de Fellatio as the shopgirl. Not for nothing was she hired for the role. Please see what she did to Harry Reems in Wet Rainbow.