My Body Burns/Dossier Erotique d’un Notaire (1972) *½
Everybody has to start somewhere. Once he got the hang of his medium, Jean-Marie Pallardy wrote and directed some of the most eccentric and inimitable French softcore sex movies of the 1970’s— which, admittedly, is not quite the same thing as saying that his films are any good. However, his earliest efforts in the field after deciding that the life of a male model wasn’t for him after all were relatively pedestrian. His debut feature, Unsatisfied, could almost pass for a giallo, at least to judge from what I’ve read, heard, and seen on the internet and in the trailers and interviews appended as extras on Le Chat Qui Fume’s DVD editions of later Pallardy movies. His second film, My Body Burns, also shows little hint of either the sumptuous exoticism for which French smut would be justly hailed in the post-Emmanuelle period, or the intensely personal kookiness of more mature Pallardy productions like Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack or Truck Stop. It too looks backward more often than not, taking most of its cues from the sordid and mean-spirited roughies that had dominated the American sex-film market since the mid-1960’s. A grim, depressing soap opera in which bad people are driven to become even worse by the small-mindedness and resentment of their neighbors, My Body Burns takes up the old US skin-flick tradition of being its own punishment for the sin that the viewer presumably commits by trying to enjoy it.
At the center of the story are two exceedingly unpleasant individuals. Doug Sands (Claude Sendron, from The Sadist of Notre Dame and Zombie Lake) is the notary of a small village in rural France. He’s brokered and/or formalized just about every significant land deal in or around town for the last 30 years or thereabouts, and the attendant commissions have made him extremely rich. That alone would be almost certain to win him plenty of enemies, but Sands compounds his popularity problems by being a randy old goat, and by running a de facto swinger’s club in the basement of his mansion on the outskirts of the village. For all practical purposes, Sands is the local embodiment of the sexual revolution, and he does not make an appealing spokesman for the shrugging off of traditional mores. Sands has never really given a shit about his reputation, but the few friends he has in town (Georges Guéret and Jacques Insermini, who were to Jean-Marie Pallardy approximately what Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton used to be to James Cameron) are beginning to impress upon him the importance of at least appearing to settle down and behave himself. Meanwhile, one of Doug’s steadier paramours, a woman about 35 years his junior by the name of Evelyn (Evelyne Scott, from The Wicked Caresses of Satan and Red Hot Zorro), has grown thoroughly sick of being poor and without prospects. Obviously, it would solve her and Doug’s problems both if they were to get married— Evelyn would gain access to Sands’s immense fortune, while Doug would acquire a smokescreen of propriety behind which to conceal his debauchery. Whether such a marriage would mean Sands actually curtailing his busy schedule of orgy-hosting, or Evelyn turning a blind eye to Doug’s continued tomcatting is an issue they’ll have to sort out between themselves.
Matters are more complicated even than that, however, because Evelyn has also been seeing Michelle (Angela Hansen), the younger daughter of the one man in the village who might be even richer than Sands. Michelle is another point on which My Body Burns feels more American than French, for she’s a man-hater worthy of any film by Michael and Roberta Findlay, and she loves to be flogged black and blue with leather belts. But more to the point for story purposes, she’s also an extremely jealous girl. Put that together with the man-hating, and I’m sure you’ll be able to anticipate how Michelle responds to the notion of Evelyn marrying Doug. Sands, for his part, is adamant that no wife of his is going to go carrying on with another woman, regardless of his views on his own monogamy. The impasse is underscored when Michelle starts trying to blackmail Evelyn into staying with her, threatening to expose the lesbian affair which they’ve thus far managed to keep secret from the prudish and traditional villagers— Michelle may be universally recognized as the town dyke, but for the moment at least, no one knows about Evelyn’s involvement with her except for Doug, Michelle’s doting father, and Michelle’s older sister, Betty (Alice Arno, from The Perverse Countess and The Erotic Exploits of Maciste in Atlantis, who was still calling herself Marie-France Broquet at this point in her career). Meanwhile, one of the regular guests at Doug’s swingers’ parties, a decadent young heir named Yvan Eaton (Pallardy himself), warns Sands that a little immediate image-tidying is desperately needed. Some of the village men have figured out that their wives, daughters, or girlfriends like to hang out at Doug’s mansion, and there’s been talk of a “hunting accident” circulating. Eventually, Sands concludes that the only thing for it is to marry Evelyn at once, and that Michelle’s life won’t be too high a price to pay to make that happen. Evelyn is perfectly willing to collude in her girlfriend’s murder, too, should it come to that. Whatever her lingering feelings for Michelle, they’re no match for the strength of her avarice.
Doesn’t exactly fill your head with lustful thoughts, does it? Even what few you’d managed to hang onto would be driven away, too, if you could see Claude Sendron. I’m well accustomed to the men in dirty movies being significantly less sexy than the women, but Pallardy consistently carries the practice a step further than most other filmmakers in his field. In every movie of his that I’ve seen, the male “romantic” lead is played by someone who is not merely unattractive by any conventional standard, but also pronouncedly on the old side. It was weird enough when Truck Stop and Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack put Georges Guéret forward as an irresistible sexual juggernaut, but Sendron leading all the women of the village into “corruption” is really pushing it— Guéret at least had a certain rugged machismo to make up for what he lacked in youth and beauty. Those who prefer not to think about their grandfathers having an active sex life will not last long in the face of My Body Burns. The film’s efforts at eroticism are further impeded by deficiencies in what you might call sex choreography. Even the more physically alluring performers (Pallardy, for example, still looks like the model he so recently was, and Angela Hansen is extremely fetching so long as she isn’t wearing the ugly and ill-fitting wig that Michelle inexplicably affects for about half of her scenes) make it look like going to bed with them would leave one regretful and unsatisfied. In particular, I really don’t think that face-grabbing maneuver the men in this movie like so much would go over very well in the real world, and the two S&M scenes between Evelyn and Michelle are fairly desultory (although the latter might be a deliberate attempt to convey how little pleasure Evelyn derives from indulging her girlfriend’s kink). Really, about the one unreservedly positive thing I can say about My Body Burns is that it is far more coherent than the other Pallardy movies I’ve seen. Perhaps that is best attributed to the fact that Pallardy based My Body Burns on a real small-town scandal, in which a notary was accused of murdering a young woman who may or may not have been blackmailing him. The notary in question was acquitted, however (apparently that was a scandal in itself, with critics of the verdict contending that the defendant had exerted undue influence on the judge in the case), and he filed suit against Pallardy and his distributor. Pallardy says that the distributor dodged the suit by removing all direct mention of Sands’s occupation from the film, which may explain why the version of My Body Burns (originally entitled Erotic Case-File of a Notary) currently available on DVD is missing its main title display.