aka Chambermaid's Dream
José Bénazéraf, 1971
Runtime: 86 min.
Format: Bootleg
Frustration is what would seem to be Jose Benazeraf's most acclaimed film (I cannot back that up yet as it's only the second film of his that I've had the opportunity to see, however), and it's a bizarre film indeed. Following the same equation as Polanski's Repulsion more or less does (a woman's sister is married/in love and the woman, being alone, goes insane), Frustration is a uniquely euro-cult take on the narrative, and it ends up being a fairly unique experience.

The plot is minimal; Adélaïde (played by Janine Reynaud who by simply putting her hair up actually appears stern and frigid whereas with hair down is more sexual and appealing) lives with her sister, Agnes, and Agnes' husband Michel (played by eurocult regular Michel Lemoine, who also co-wrote the script). While Michel and Agnes appear to be utterly enveloped by each other within their marriage, Adélaïde is thoroughly frustrated by it. She seems to miss the days when she and her sister were closer, and there wasn't an outsider involved in their relationship.

Adélaïde appears to fetishize the relationship, forming some sort of deep sexual attraction to her sister that is made most apparent early on in the film as Benazeraf's camera slowly lingers over Agnes' lips and tongue as she drinks a glass of scotch. Also, whenever Adélaïde hears her sister and Michel making love she cannot focus on anything else, and she escapes into her mind where bizarre sexual fantasies (which easily form the highlights of the film) play out.
In an attempt to win her sister back and in order to cope with her sexual frustration, Adélaïde first attempts to convince her sister that she doesn't belong in a marriage, that it's not compatible with the sister that she grew up knowing, a more strong, independent woman. As that accomplishes nothing, Adélaïde invents a story about Michel having a mistress, relaying the incident to Agnes in utter, lingering detail. Later, when Agnes approaches Adélaïde again about Michel's mistress, Adélaïde denies having ever said such a thing, to which Agnes replies, "You're completely mad."

Eventually Adélaïde cannot tolerate the situation that she is in, throwing her anxieties into the relationship between Agnes and Michel, and she resorts to violence in order to remedy her madness, which leads to an ending that is both powerful and understated, a combination that seems to be one of Benazeraf's strengths.

The film is not overly exploitive, rather, Benazeraf subverts images that are regularly seen in exploitation films and turns them into taut images that Adélaïde projects from her mind, incidents that push Adélaïde further and further away from sanity. In the earliest, strongest example of Adélaïde's madness, she imagines her self desperately running down an extended hallway, opening each and every door to find her sister and Michel in a different sexual position. Adélaïde continues to desperately seek solace from this sexual interaction that she so dearly desires but has no access to as the music continues to build.
In order to emphasize the fractured state of Adélaïde's mind, Benazeraf seems to employ a sort of fractured narrative and aural structure by way of editing. During Adélaïde's "fantasies" the music will crescendo and stop before the action on screen has achieved the same affect, creating a sort of dichotomy that emphasizes a sense of instability. At first the effect seems jarring and unnecessary, but as the film continues the sound design plays more and more into Adélaïde's emotional state and ends up being quite successful. The visual editing is similar, as in the aforementioned scene where Adélaïde lingers on Agnes' lips as she drinks a glass of scotch; during this scene (and other incidents of Adélaïde's 'fantasies,') any sense of time is abandoned. Elements are repeated without any sense of rhythm, creating a discordant visual style that adds to the tension that is rapidly building.

Another interesting factor in the film is how banal everything outside of Adélaïde's fantasies seems. The large, antiquated manor that the threesome reside in is gray and unwelcoming, with nothing particularly 'homey' about it. In fact, the one 'homey' signifier that is ever present in the film is a Christmas tree, which within five minutes of the films' runtime is shown being taken down. The French country side that the manor is located in is also far from romantic in the brief amount of time the characters spend outside of the house. The countryside, at the tail end of winter, is also gray and decaying, with the trees and plants all dead and the weather constantly overcast.

While it's not a perfect film (for instance, the aforementioned fractured stylizations don't work quite as well as they could), it's a very interesting one, and anybody who has an interest in the more psychological side of the euro-cult world (while still carrying enough visually stimulating elements to appease the more visually oriented fans) should do themselves a favor and track the film down.

Mike Kitchell, 2007