O Fantasma is a 2000 Portuguese film directed by Joao Pedro Rodrigues. It concerns Sergio, a young man working as a night time garbage collector in Lisbon, and his sexual development.
Sergio is, to say the least, alienated. He inhabits a largely empty night-time world. While he flirts with a female co-worker, Fatima, his main sexual connections with others are wordless, anonymous sexual encounters with men. Not only does he connect to the company’s mascot dog, he’s animal-like himself. He rarely speaks, and often sniffs and licks people and things. Sergio just doesn’t have the social vocabulary to express his sexual identity. He operates more on intuition.
This is the second film named Venus in Furs released in 1969, also known as Devil in the Flesh or La malizide di Venere. It’s a semi-faithful adaptation of the original 1870 book, unlike some other films which have little to do with the original text. However, there are significant thematic differences.
The film skips the framing story of the book. The film opens in the present day at a retreat in the Swiss Alps, where Severin, a writer, is staying.
When young Wanda von Dunajew, a model, arrives, Severin is immediately taken with her from afar. He later spies on her through hidden peepholes (with the acknowledgement and encouragement of the resort’s female manager). She conveniently takes a shower at that moment, then admires herself in furs, then masturbates. The sequence is framed through the gaps in the wall.
This prompts Severin to flashback to his childhood, when he spies on the maid and the chauffeur having a tryst.
Voyeurism and exhibitionism is a big part of the first half of this movie. Severin doesn’t just take scopophilic pleasure in watching Wanda, there has to be another person there, usually a man, who also gazes at her. Wanda actively flirts in some cases, courting the gaze. Later, Severin spies on her having an encounter with a younger man. This prompts another flashback to the maid and chauffeur. The maid spots young Severin and, while bare-breasted, slaps him, then cuddles him.
Severin and Wanda meet face to face, and make out in plain view of a number of people.
Severin: “In love, there are only masters and slaves. Those who dominate and those who are dominated.”
Wanda shows him a book of photographs of her, including one in an Orientalist chainmail outfit and a riding crop from when she was a stripteaser.
Wanda: “That was a Tartar Queen number. It was always a big success.”
She apparently has the full costume with her, including the crop, and does it for Severin. She swishes the crop around and accidentally (?) hits him in the face. He finds it pleasurable. She is apologetic. He tells her to whip her again, on his bare back.
After they dance at a club, she says she knew he was spying on her, and enjoyed performing for him. He tells her he wants her to make him suffer.
Severin talks about how the problem of love is monotony, and the woman should seek other pleasures. She tells him she feels drawn to breaking through limits with him.
Implication of cunnilingus, though no exposure.
Severin: “I’m very happy when others desire you.”
Wanda: “You really aren’t jealous?”
Severin: “No, as long as I’m part of the game.”
Wanda: “Then there’s only pleasure for you when I provoke other men while you watch.”
At a ranch, they watch a mare being nuzzled by a colt (young male horse) separated by a low wall. Then the colt is taken away and a big stallion is brought in to mount the mare, complete with visible horse penis. The ranch’s owner, an older man, is present and makes moves on Wanda.
Severin is turned on by this spectacle. Wanda looks at Severin suspiciously.
Next scene: Severin coaxes Wanda into seducing a young fisher, Andreas. He watches, of course. He follows them into the woods. Wanda and Andreas start having sex, then Andreas runs off and is replaced by Severin, followed by a sudden rainstorm.
They get married, and he gives her a beautiful fur coat. He also gives her a suicide note that gets her off the hook if something were to happen to him. “I want no limits to your cruelty.”
She feels tempted, and he wants to unleash her.
Roadside fellatio on him from her.
Severin and Wanda check into a house in Spain, near Costa Brava.
Severin: “I’d like to be treated just like an oriental slave.”
Severin takes the role of her chauffeur, complete with uniform and hat. Part of the game is them cuddling in public, playing at violating the class hierarchy. People stop and watch.
They also hire two white maids (instead of three African maids) who have their own sadomasochistic relationship. The younger of the two maids develops a crush on Severin, and exposes herself to him, meeting only with indifference. This maid returns to the older maid, who beats her for infidelity.
Severin urges Wanda to approach an artist, but complains when she spends an hour out of his sight with the artist. After the artist paints Wanda nude and holding a riding crop, Severin literally pushes her into the artist’s arms.
Fitting with the source text, there’s a lot of voyeurism and cuckoldry. Sacher-Masoch treated the cuckold scene as the ultimate expression of his fantasies, the worst thing a woman can do to him, to make him watch as she submits to another, stronger man. The problem is that in such a triad (“bull”-woman-cuckold/observer), there’s always the possibility of removing the woman from the scene like a redundant term in an equation. What’s left is one man dominating another.
In the book, Severin was obsessed with pairing Wanda with the hypermasculine man known as “the Greek”. Here, it’s a big macho guy named Bruno, but Wanda is the one who picks him up off the road and invites him back to the house. Severin alternates between griping to Wanda about Bruno’s presence and mutely watching him as he dominates Wanda.
In the last of Severin’s fantasy sequences, Bruno has completely taken over the house. He has Severin wearing a mask like a dog’s muzzle, and “makes” him watch as he lords it over Wanda and the two maids.
After he drives away, Severin spots a group of sex workers by a gas station. One of them, Paulie, is also played by the same actress as Wanda, though in a blonde wig and with a mole on her cheek.
In a hotel room with Severin, Paulie comes off like a tough woman, but he suddenly turns on her and strangles her. The hotel staff come into the room and break it up, but Paulie tells them to leave him alone and that he was her friend. The staff leaves, confused but resigned.
She falls to her knees before him and says that his violence towards her was beautiful. She tells him she wants to be “your woman” and give him all the money she earns; in other words, have him be her pimp. She offers herself to him, and asks what he wants her to do.
The final scene is of Paulie happily whipping Severin. It suggests that what Severin really wants is a woman who will perform the role of the dominatrix, but remains below him in the privilege scale.
This version of Venus is difficult to watch. While it looks pretty, there’s an undercurrent of misogyny in its treatment of women. For a movie based on the ur text of male masochism, there are many scenes of women being slapped and beaten. They don’t even enjoy it in a masochistic way. They just cry and beg. In one of Severin’s fantasy sequences, he imagines her being dragged into a dungeon by hooded men, bound, stripped and beaten; one of the men removes his hood, revealing himself to be Severin.
This is in keeping in the source text, in which Severin, after his experience with Wanda, ruthlessly dominates women. (It also echoes Bitter Moon in which the male protagonist oscillates between sadism and masochism towards women, one requiring the other.)
Director Massimo Dallamano directed a number of Italian giallo films, and also worked as a cinematographer. His credits include classic spaghetti Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Laura Antonelli (Wanda) had a long career as an actress, while Régis Vallée (Severin) only appeared in three other films. This appears to be the only screen credit of the screenwriter, Fabio Massimo.
L.A. Law S07E10 “Spanky and the Art Gang”, aired January 14, 1993
L.A. Law was an ensemble dramedy about a Los Angeles law firm. LIke detective procedurals, legal procedurals bring the characters into a variety of situations, and one popular topic is BDSM, usually in the form of pro dominatrixes.
In this case, the law firm takes as a client Claudia Von Rault, aka Mistress Zenia (played by Lillian D’Arc). She’s charged with involuntary manslaughter of Eric Schuller, who died during a session. The lawyers are initially reluctant to take the sensational case, but the deceased had business entanglements with the firm’s partners and they want it handled in-house.
Preaching to the Perverted (IMDB) is a 1997 romantic comedy written and directed by Stuart Urban, starring Guinevere Turner and Christian Anholt.
Preaching has a lot of similarities to Exit to Eden. Both are romantic comedies that try to present BDSM to the mainstream. Both feature dominant women who are rulers of kinky realms (with female aides de camp) who have difficulty opening up to intimacy until a special man comes along.
Preaching is a superior film in many ways. There’s no extraneous MacGuffin plot grafted on. Exit tried too hard to soft-pedal kink for a mainstream audience, and barely showed anything. This film has lots of different kink activities and more queer content. It at least considers the political realm, as the police and government act against Tanya’s parties.
Tanya Cheex (Guinevere Turner) is a notorious American performance artist who does elaborate stage shows at UK fetish clubs. A tabloid newspaper gets photos of this and editorializes about who will control this American filth. (Like the British need any foreign influence to be kinky.) Conservative Member of Parliament Henry Harding decides to make her a target of a moralistic crusade, and recruits a young Christian computer tech, Peter Emery (Christian Anholt) to infiltrate the fetish underworld with a hidden camera.
Exit to Eden (IMDB) is a 1994 romance/comedy/thriller movie, based on the sadomasochistic novel by Anne Rice.
Exit was the first feature film released based on an Anne Rice novel, mainly because Interview with the Vampire was tied up in development hell for a long time. I suspect this was a case of the author selling the film rights on the assumption that it would never actually get made into a film. Rice wrote and published Exit to Eden between the second and third books in her original Sleeping Beauty trilogy, and it’s full of hardcore sex, hetero and otherwise.
Even more bizarre, the film was directed by Garry Marshall, a guy with a long background in American sitcoms. Why would the guy who created Happy Days direct a movie about BDSM? The Bad Gay Movies podcast suggest it was because of the commercial success of Marshall’s film Pretty Woman (1990), which managed to be a sweet rom-com about LA street prostitution.
Marshall had his work cut out for him. Exit is about Elliot, a war photographer, who travels to the Club, an elite BDSM club on a tropical island, on a quest for self-knowledge. There he meets and falls for Lisa, the head trainer.
My Mistress is a 2014 Australian drama film. A teenage boy, struggling after the death of his father, forms a relationship with a lonely older woman who turns out to be a pro-dominatrix.
Despite the title and the promotional images, My Mistress is not primarily about a BDSM relationship. It belongs in the category of films about the male fantasy of being initiated in sex by an older attractive woman. E.g. Private Lessons (1981), Class (1983), My Tutor (1983), They’re Playing with Fire (1984), and even Weird Science (1985). Right away, we’re getting into some difficult areas about consent and double-standards about sex between younger men and older women. (For the record, the age of consent in most of Australia is 16.)
Charlie, a teenage boy, aimlessly bikes around his neighborhood. He sees an older woman with a French accent, Maggie, move into a house nearby. He returns home, only to find his father has committed suicide. Soon after that, he learns his mother has been having an affair.
Distraught, Charlie forms a casual relationship with Maggie. He bikes to her house and goes inside. He goes upstairs to find her playroom where she is in full dominatrix dress and in mid-session with a man. He runs off.