For those who enjoy kitsch, Just (Emmanuelle) Jaeckin's adaptation of Pauline Réage's S&M novel is a must. There's puffy, blank-faced O (Cléry) with cruel lover René, (Kier), the one with the husky eyes and 'I'm an arsehole' hairdo. So far, so risible. But then the film gets a story. It's Sir Stephen (Steel) who does it, the older man who brands O's bottom with his own initials. She suddenly seems madder, but not in a photogenic, wild child way; what she comes to resemble most is a raging bourgeois housewife, a role she's been prepared for from childhood. Having lived the modern life, complete with her own apartment and Vogue photoshoots, O gravitates towards a house with servants and lacy tablecloths and realises her taste for them. Thus, when she finally turns the tables on Sir Stephen it doesn't feel like a coda tacked on to appease feminists: she's just discovered what it means to be adult, and her attendant sensations rush over us too. As anyone who's seen Romance will know, the film has obviously been influential - but not enough so. Stanley Kubrick borrowed the visuals - the ornate face masks and the cloaks - but his orgy slaves were pure Barbara Cartland. The Story of O disturbs precisely because it takes us through the dumb mask, to the damaged, unpredictable human brain beneath.
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