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Revenge is a dish best served naked
A UK region 0 DVD review of DRESSAGE by Gort
 

The set-up of Pierre B. Reinhard's 1986 Dressage is actually rather neat. At a gathering of would-be society debauchees, the Baron Plessis de Regard and the attractive young Nathalie hatch their individual plans to use sex to respectively ruin and punish their enemies. The Baron's plan is to scupper the political ambitions of right-wing parliamentary candidate Colonel Montvilliers by setting him up with a female companion and publicly exposing his new-found vices. Nathalie's quest is of a more personal nature, to destroy her estranged father Charles Leroy-Merville by corrupting his innocent 17-year-old daughter Sophie, a task she intends to achieve by securing employment as the girl's summer tutor. With just about every woman present keen to assist in the Baron's plan, they are each given 30 seconds to demonstrate the limits of their perversity, a contest rather easily won by the frankly not that perverse but clearly up-for-it Elaine Langleur.

With the Baron's recommendation, Elaine also secures a position as a summer tutor and is placed in charge of the strict education (an English-style education no less, providing a tenuous link to the other first release on Nucleus Films' new Naughty label, Éducation Anglaise) of the Colonel's sheepish son Robert. This largely involves her tormenting him with a mixture of stern discipline and sexual teasing, ordering him not to look below her waist and then hitching her skirt up high enough to act as an eye magnet, or by making him face the wall while she teaches the lesson naked. Dad knows nothing about this, of course, but Elaine is playing similar games with him, turning up for evening meetings in her night attire ("I was just getting ready for bed") and exposing just enough flesh to pique her intended victim's interest. On her second visit she gets drunk in eight seconds on a single glass of sherry, throws open her gown and falls to the floor, prompting the colonel to try and revive her by grabbing her breasts and thighs.

Dressage

Nathalie, meanwhile, is instructing Sophie in the works of the Marquis De Sade and the pleasures of the flesh, passing on useful titbits like "your pretty thighs hide both a treasure and a weapon" and using a child's toy to instruct her in the act of fellatio. At one point she orders Sophie to remove her knickers and enjoy the feel of the breeze on her you-know-what as she propels herself back and forth on a garden swing. It's a scene that rather effectively illustrates the difference between erotica and pornography – the camera angle and Sophie's movements ensure that the momentary glimpses beneath Sophie's skirt are far from explicit, yet I'm willing to wager that just about any male viewer who has got this far into the film will be trying their damnedest to catch just a quick peek of something that a 20-second internet search could deliver in pin-sharp clarity.

When she's not transforming Sophie into a future sin machine, Nathalie is also teasing her employer, putting on a show in the shower and loudly vocalising her desperate need for a man when she knows he is peeking in. Given that he is actually her father, this moves the film into the sort of territory that some will consider morally unsound – always a plus in my book – and points the way to a conclusion that foreshadows a similar ending found in a more recent and far more widely seen revenge movie of note.

An erotic drama at heart, Dressage plays with notions of domination and humiliation and flirts with politics (Montvilliers and his cronies are bitterly opposed to Bolshevism and are hatching a plan to blow up parliament) and variations on the theme of corruption within the French aristocracy. Largely superficial though these elements may be, they enjoyably texture would could otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill slice of 80s softcore titillation. It's ahead of the game anyway by making the sexual element part of the plot rather than mere decoration, and if you find your sympathies shifting from the girls to luckless pawns Sophie and Albert, as I did, then be sure to stick with the story until its tail-turning end.

Dressage is targeted at a very specific audience and none of the above is likely to convince those unsympathetic to the pleasures of European erotic drama of its merits, but to paraphrase Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, they didn't make it for YOU. For those in the club, Dressage is well enough made, substantial enough in plot and with just enough naughtiness to be of worth ninety-six minutes of your time. At least it would be were it not for...

sound and vision

The good news that the transfer is anamorphically enhanced, the print is reasonably clean despite a fair few still visible dust spots, and the detail is sometimes not at all bad. But right from the start the picture is dingily dark, resulting in sometimes important picture information disappearing into the gloom in the night-time interior scenes, of which there are many. There are some edge halos on shots where heads are set against sky and there are traces of a pattern of some sort over the whole picture when things get really dark. At its worst this robs erotic scenes of some of their eroticism. The signs are that this is an NTSC to PAL transfer. I've seen a lot better.

Dressage

The original French soundtrack is partnered by a perfectly serviceable English dub. Neither are exactly sparkling, but the French track is lacking in volume and muffled enough to make me wonder if there were bags of cotton wool stuffed in my speakers.

extra features

The English (1:33) and French (1:34) trailers are similar in style, varying only on some of the clips used. The French trailer has no English subtitles, There is also a gallery (1:35) of front-of-house stills, posters and press handbook pages.

summary

I rather enjoyed Dressage, whose almost sweetly inexplicit eroticism is given an edge by way of its double revenge plots and their dark-tinged conclusions. I'd probably have enjoyed it more it I'd had a clearer view of what I was looking at, the darkness of the picture and black-heavy contrast at times genuinely interfering with the action. So to speak.

Dressage

France 1986
96 mins
director
Pierre B. Reinhard
starring
Véronique Catanzaro
Patrick Guillemin
Cornélia Wilms
Henri-Jacques Huet
André Nader
Sylvie Novak
Pierre Doris

DVD details
region 0
video
1.66:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
French
English

subtitles

English

extras

Trailers
Gallery
distributor
Naughty (Nucleus)
release date
21 January 2008
review posted
31 January 2008

See all of Gort's reviews