[Content Warning: This review discusses rape; also, spoilers for the entire piece.]
Spoiler warnings are pointless. If you knew every plot point before watching, Belladonna of Sadness would still gobsmack you. More than plot, this film lives through images, images more decadent and luxurious than even the plot description suggests. From equal parts Klimt, Victorian fairy-tale illustration, and Yellow Submarine, Eiichii Yamamoto concocted a delirious feminist fable. A fable, albeit, unable to fully articulate its vision.
Newly-wed peasants, Jean and Jeanne, cannot satisfy the local lord’s taxes. In lieu of gold and cows, the court kicks Jean to the drawbridge, and rape Jeanne. After Jeanne stumbles home, her husband, in a mad rage, almost strangles her to death. Sleeping alone, Jeanne spies a phallic pixie calling himself Satan. In exchange for her submission, Satan will grant her power. She refuses his offer, and his next. Both times Satan rapes her, but grants her worldly power, first financial and sexual. The villagers cohere around her new-found power, which displeases the Lady, wife of the rapist Lord. The Lady bristles that a commoner should have more authority than her. She locks Jeanne a dungeon, under suspicion of witchcraft.