Once a 500-copy limited edition, Jess Franco’s PAULA-PAULA is made available to a wider audience (at least in terms of distribution) by new/old Intervision Picture Corp. as one of their two debut releases (the other being THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF).
Pornographic night club entertainer Paula (Carmen Montes) is institutionalized for the murder of another performer, who is also named Paula (Paula Davis). Apparently, she has tried to kill her five times already. Why are her answers to questions asked by her doctor (Lina Romay) evasive? Were Paula and Paula lovers, enemies or two contrasting personalities? Who knows? Franco doesn’t seem too concerned.
Credited as “an audiovisual experience by Jess Franco” and “inspired by Jekyll and Hyde by R. L. Stevenson,” the Stevenson reference may be merely a provocation for the viewer to read meaning into a very loose narrative. More questions are raised with little if anything to intuit answers. We know the other Paula exists; early on an attendant informs the doctor (out of Paula’s earshot) that the other Paula has died (in a shot that may be a visual reference to Franco’s EUGENIE 2000/EUGENIE DE SADE). We know the other Paula is not her physical double; they are played by different actresses (thanks to a digital mirror effect, Paula Davis has her own split self). The live Paula’s dance moves are similar to the dead ones (although her “costume” is considerably simpler). Some of Paula’s ramblings are also suggestive of childhood sexual abuse (she says she may have been performing at the club with her father as young as five years old). Paula tells the camera a story about a woman with no memory who marries a prince and then kills him when she recognizes his palace as belonging to the devil. This story is repeated in voice-over later on. Was Paula trying to escape her own personal hell by murdering her hated lover (her better half)? After a half-hour of set-up, in which nothing is clearly established, Paula and Paula spend the next 25 minutes making out before the end (which may also be another reference to EUGENIE 2000), which may sum up the entire film as Paula and Paula’s performance.
That’s about all there is to PAULA-PAULA. There’s not much to be said about the performances, because there isn’t enough script for any complete characterization. Romay and Montes (so beguiling as Franco’s SNAKEWOMAN) give proficient performances, but there is no adversarial relationship set up between the two; Romay disappears after the setup. Paula Davis is a purely visual presence to be fetishized by Franco’s camera and DV effects toolkit. The digital effects are meant to be artificial, but they are considerably advanced over similar work in LUST FOR FRANKENSTEIN and VAMPIRE BLUES. Just as Franco used such effects to suggest the otherworldliness of the vampire in the latter film, here his Paula morphs from a single person, into two, into one with three breasts, her bent arms seem to become the bare thighs and legs as her face and torso disappear into the middle of the split effect (appearing almost like a bent over woman seen from the rear).
The real star of the film, however, is the score by Austrian composer Friedrich Gulda, whose cues supplanted those of Jerry Van Rooyen in Franco’s underrated SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON. The late composer’s family freely gifted Franco a number of original music tracks recently. They are showcased here in stereo, and it is very easy to tune out from the visuals and take in the music. The tracks vary from brass and flutes, to jazz piano, to some lively Spanish guitars, and the images flow nicely (even if the DV lensing isn’t always so slick). PAULA-PAULA doesn’t exactly improve on repeat viewings, but it plays nicely as its own soundtrack or an album with visual augmentation.
Initially released last year by CB Films (CineBinario Films) in a limited edition PAL DVD of 500 copies (with better cover art), PAULA-PAULA has been licensed by Intervision (which may explain why CineBinario suddenly canceled its Amazon orders and only offered the limited disc for sale through their website). Intervision’s disc is superior to their SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF because they had a superior source (digital video versus whatever old video master format was available for ORLOFF). The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen imagr looks as good as the digitally-manipulated source can look with the added PAL conversion artifacts. Gulda’s score is far more clearly rendered than the Spanish dialogue (which seems to have been recorded using the on-camera microphone and not looped) on the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. The English subtitles have some grammatical errors, so it is likely that they have not been revisited since the translation done for the CB Films disc.
Extras start with a 1:25 introduction by Franco, recorded a mere half hour after he finished editing with the director seemingly breathless in his enthusiasm, in which he espouses his love of his new digital workflow, which will allow him to make many more films. He also praises his young collaborators (although, he tells us he is “young at heart”), and in some ways PAULA-PAULA can be viewed as a collaboration. Editing and visual effects are credited jointly to Franco and CB Films artists Beatriz Alcala and Alberto Sedano. Alcala is also credited with Franco as camera operators. The scenario is credited to “Rosa M. Almirall” who also handled make-up and costumes. Some of the digital effects on his previous works had been created in collaboration with the film program at the University of Malaga (those collaborators might be viewed as technicians, while Alcala and Sedano seem to have had more artistic collaborative input).
“Jess Franco on Contemporary Filmmaking” (17:44) is an interesting, although loose, discussion of his opinions on cinema. He refers to it as the “most complete art form” and that filmmakers must take risks and not be predictable. He dislikes the European system of government cultural institutional funding of filmmaking and he says not being rich is no excuse not to make a movie. He also hopes that departmentalization in cinema will die out; in other words, each person “should do everything he knows, and more” (an assistant cinematographer should try being a set designer, for instance). He also likes the fact that more women are becoming involved in filmmaking. “Jess Franco on PAULA-PAULA” (8:29) is divided between discussions of the film, the music and the cast. He refers to the film as one of the two or three “weirdest” films he’s ever made (out of about 208 or 209). He also talks about Leone and Welles and the importance of unifying how you see the movie in one’s head and what is on the screen. He also speaks highly of Montes and Davis, and says today’s actors are more interested in technique and being physically prepared. (Eric Cotenas)
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