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La Belladone de la tristesse ("Kanashimi No Belladonna", "The Tragedy of Belladonna")

  • Japan
  • 1973
  • 88 mins
  • 35mm
  • French

Like 1922’s live-action proto-horror gem WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES, AKA HÄXAN, this work of 1970s Japanese anime (based on Jules Michelet’s 1862 novel “Satanism and Witchcraft”) draws its inspiration from medieval legends of black magic. France of that era is awash in famine, pestilence and repressive violence. Amid all this, the peasant girl Jeanne has fallen in love with Jean, a humble farmer. As tradition dictates, the couple approaches their lord for his blessing of their union. Too poor to pay the required bride price, Jean is humiliated and ejected from the castle, while Jeanne is raped by the nobleman on what should be her wedding night. Jean soon comes to regard Jeanne with shame and disdain. Her desperate prayers are answered, but it is the devil who comes to her, not God. The malevolent one offers her amazing powers of sorcery — in exchange for her body and soul. With the devil’s help, Jeanne soon gains riches and power, leading to rumours of an unholy alliance, and murmurs of jealousy and hate, while Jean sinks ever deeper into the drink. Each night, Jeanne is tormented by her new master from the underworld. When plague breaks out, eyes turn to Jeanne, whose belladonna nectar has brought healing and renewed romantic passions. Accused of heresy, Jeanne is brought before a tribunal of inquisitor. Dance with the devil, she discovers, and you will be burned…

Here’s a rare chance to catch a truly unique artifact of forgotten cinematic history. It’s a work of highly experimental, erotic Japanese animation from the adults-only “animerama” line of manga godfather Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Pro studios. Poetic, perverse and wildly inventive in technique, it draws its aesthetic sensibility from the art nouveau of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha, with an extra dose of ’70s European bande dessinée (Crepax and Druillet are obvious reference points) and the era’s hallucinatory graphic style. It plays with the sensuality of lines, with the visceral nature of Jeanne’s miseries and with a musical score that's equally classical, pop and psychedelic. Released in the early ’70s, a French dubbing was produced by the Marko studios in Montreal, adding an extra layer of curiosity to the experience — even the songs are painstakingly reworked. Anglophone Fantasia friends, mind you, will be more than rewarded by this opportunity. Unavailable in North America, our screening of a rare 35mm print of THE TRAGEDY OF BELLADONNA is an absolute must for lovers of unusual animation and classic psychedelic art!

— DJ XL5