Lilian (la virgen pervertida) (Jess Franco, 1984)

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Not a good film for newcomers into Jess Franco territory, Lilian is low-budget drama and cheap porno flick stitched into one. The thin storyline centers around a German teenager (Katia Bienert) falling into the clutches of two sadistic fiends (Lina Romay and Emilio Linder) while vacationing in Spain and the film is made to run feature-length via inclusion of several lengthy hardcore sex scenes. The most interesting scenes involve actor/production manager Antonio Mayans (once again playing a Pereira) and Franco himself as they listen to the dying Lilian’s story and argue whether to go against a high-up government official to avenge the girl. Lina Romay as the fiendish Irina dons the red wig also seen in El Mirón y la Exhibicionista and gives it all in her acting scenes as well as in the sex scenes with José Llamas.

Lilian is an oddity, switching abruptly at even intervals between serene vistas such as the opening credits scene, dreamlike flashbacks depicting Lilian’s initiation into the world of vice and graphic XXX scenes, often shot in clinical close-up. The effect is confusing, offensive and intriguing in equal measure.

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Katia Bienert looks awfully young (much too young for the part!), and suitably innocent as Lilian. Her screen time is limited and she doesn’t get an awful lot to do, except get molested by the predatory duo of Lina Romay and Emilio Linder before relating her misfortunes to Mayans and Franco. The wraparound story of a dying girl telling of her suffering is reminiscent of Franco’s Soledad Miranda vehicle, the excellent Eugenie De Sade.

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Daniel White is present both on- and off-screen in Lilian with his cues from Sadomania, Female Vampire and other works laid over the sex scenes in an indiscriminate fashion. Jess Franco’s longtime collaborator takes on a role of a corrupt government official to who Antonio Mayans’ justice-seeking provincial cop turns for help before taking the law into his own hands. White is subdued and pensive in his part, unlike his googly-eyed turn in Diamonds of Kilimandjaro, again with Katia Bienert.

Made presumably around the same time as El Hundimiento de la Casa Usher ( judging from the use of the same cast and Antonio Mayan’s look), Lilian gives Jess Franco another opportunity to play around with space. At times he flattens the image with his zoom lens, other times he achieves an almost 3D effect when a wide-angle, hand-held camera is exploring the villa’s premises. Unlike the majority of Golden Films productions, Lilian isn’t shot in Techniscope, but it’s a well-composed and stylish picture all the same. Skilled at using natural light and picturesque locations to maximum effect, Franco  and cinematographer Juan Soler  make the most of their resources, with many shots achieving an abstract quality. This personal style transcends the cheapness and shortcomings of the story, giving Lilian a unique look. Were it not for the porn scenes, Lilian could have been a minor classic.

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Jess Franco’s decision to shoot additional sex inserts may have made business sense at the time of the film’s production, when there was a demand for hardcore features, but it ultimately hurts the film, which had a lot of potential as a low-key drama. If shorn of the revolting hardcore content, Lilian would have made a beautiful, lyrical short about corrupted innocence. Alas, Lilian (la virgen pervertida) remains another curious, tantalising patchwork film from the ever-erratic Jess Franco.

Lilian is available via a Spanish kiosk DVD in a decent-quality non-anamorphic presentation.

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