TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE
Over the weekend, I rented the movie Belladonna of Sadness. It's a classic anime made in 1973, illustrated using watercolors and abstract drawings. The setting takes place in medieval France in a little town. In the beginning, Jeanne (the main character), gets raped by the lord and his entire court on her wedding day since they couldn't pay their wedding tax. Broken and dismal, the devil appears to her in the form of a small, seemingly harmless, phallic-shaped creature. He resembles male genitalia because this is a very erotic and lewd film that shouldn't be viewed by the faint of heart. The devil takes her through a series of sexual experiences in exchange for whatever she feels will make her life better. The first thing he gifts her with is her husband to become the tax collector. With their somehow newfound wealth, Jeanne's husband Jean is the only one in town able to pay their taxes. The town is poor and in famish, yet somehow Jeanne and her husband are able to pay without a problem. This is when he obtains his new status and people start accusing Jeanne of witchcraft, possibly alluding to the story of The Salem Witch Trials. After a series of trials and errors, the town goes between respecting her and despising her. She eventually becomes so powerful, the Lord's wife gets jealous and her husband goes from a tax collector to feeling like nothing because of how much power his wife has. The same people who raped her and left her in shambles are now fearing her as she's gaining more respect than them. So, she gets thrown out of the town.
The more power Jeanne gives the devil, the larger he grows. Eventually, she ends up giving her soul. He becomes more powerful than ever before. She soon becomes a witch in the woods who offers orgies with the townspeople in order to give them what they want. The people end up respecting her and worshipping her more than before, and the lord offers her a series of deals. One of them was the opportunity for Jeanne to become second to no one but the lord. However, she refuses. At this point, the only thing Jeanne wants is "everything". This movie is about Jeanne finding power after feeling so hopeless before. The lord doesn't like this, and he crucifies and burns her. As she dies, everyone in the crowds' face starts to morph into hers. Could this be a metaphor describing the impact her life had caused on all of them?
Despite the graphic and dark themes of this movie, it's one of the most inspiring and powerful films I've ever watched. I still can't decide if I love it or hate it. Either way, it's definitely something I recommend to film geeks or anyone looking to entertain themselves. I think one of the things I can appreciate from this film is how the creators were able to turn Jeanne from a sad character who had just been crushed, to a powerful human being who won't take no for an answer. They appreciate the sexuality and strength of women, making this a feminist film. The only controversial idea I can pluck from it would be the phallic-looking devil, as it's a bit degrading and goes back to the rape thing. Like, why would you give Jeanne her power back after being raped in the form of sex? Don't get me wrong, I don't think this was an accident. He is the devil after all, so why not use her traumatic experiences against her, turning her from a prim girl to a sexual being? Overall, this was a very thought-provoking animated film, and it will definitely be on my list of favorites.