Belladonna of Sadness (1973) – Evocative, But Suffers From A Mixed Message

Whoo boy is this going to be a complex movie to tangle open. Not in a plot way, but just in the imagery and how to put it. ANYWAY THIS MOVIE IS FOR ADULTS SO KIDS STAY OFF THIS ONE! I AM WARNING YOU ALREADY UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE THOROUGHLY TRAUMATISED!


In the Middle Ages in France Jeanne and Jean are just married and they go to see the local Baron to give an offering to him as is the custom to solidify the marriage. The Baron is immediately lusting over Jeanne and orders her to be taken as it is his for the wedding night along with the other men of the court. They rape her. Jeanne is devastated, while Jean is sad, angry and helpless. Soon Jeanne comes to be tempted by a small creature who turns out to be the Devil in disguise, whispering in her ear to give her soul to him so she can feel powerful again. Jeanne decides to become a witch and soon has the village under her control, but with the power comes a great price.



Based on the book Satanism and Witchcraft or La Sorcière by Jules Michelet written in 1862, the book is about witchcraft and how it was in opposition to the Church at the time. With women as the leaders of this movement. The book is sympathetic both to the women and the peasants at the time. One of the first to be so.

The animation in this movie is fluid and evocative. Its full blow 70s yet still grounded in the art style and the acting done by the drawings. It goes from fluid to still with some moving parts to a complete still drawing smoothly with the voice over and music making this movie a trip. The part where Jeanne gives herself to the Devil is REALLY disturbing and is truly a smash on the head that this was made in the 70s with toys and other madness bursting around from this otherwise watercolour world. The art becomes erotic whenever rape and sex happens in the movie and its done visually well, showing both the mental and physical rupture of rape and the pleasure and beauty of sex in a psychedelic way. It was the 70s is all I can say and someone must have been high at some point.

There are parts that are really scary and if you aren’t mentally ready to see those images then skip this movie for now. It says many things with so little and the story makes us care for these characters. The voice acting itself is good, even though the lips don’t move EVER the sense we get from these characters and how good or evil they are comes straight from the voice acting. It enhances the movie more than hinders it.



Now to the mixed message. This movie was supposed to empower women with witchcraft, but instead it made me realise how in the 70s it was not independence that was offered in this movie, but another form of control. The Devil is as much of a bad guy as the Baron, raping Jeanne and enticing her to his will to that she will give up her soul to him. Jeanne is not able to become her own person after this, but instead is given power by a man and a rapist after powerful men raped her. She is not allowed recover herself or choose not to be subservient because she always is subservient in this movie because she is a woman born in the wrong times. The film is sympathetic to her plight, but along with the artistic styles the age in which this was made in are as clear as the lesson this movie is trying to send.

The ending gives hope that Jeanne’s message will go on, but it is soured with what is shown on screen. Jeanne’s body is constantly shown, naked and at the whims of whomever she is subservient to. It is not until she becomes a witch that she has power and authority, but is punished for it. The Male Gaze is very prominent in this movie.

This movie was directed by Eiichi Yamamoto, a man, who no doubt had good intentions in mind, but missed the point completely with the message he was trying to send. This movie was a box office failure and only in recent years has it become a cult classic for its imagery. If you are a witch, a fan of Japanese animation in the 70s or just want to see the erotica then this movie is for you, just know in whose eyes you are viewing this display of rape, artistry, psychedelic mind warp scenes and pure nightmare fuel of a movie if you are a woman.




Thank you for reading!

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