This film is a sado-erotic masterpiece from a master of sado-eroticism (Allain Robbe-Grillet). It is not for everyone. If you have not explored alternate sexuality, it is not a film for you.
I didn't understand this film before reading the info in the special features. There are many erotic BDSM scenes with attractive actresses. On its face, the film might appear to be exploitative and gratuitously sado-masochistic.
However, on reading the commentary by the director (Allain Robbe-Grillet), the film came into focus as an art film exploring the deep taboos of our unconscious.
It is a film with a long history of predecessors in French cinema. Grillet (died in 2008) is a noted French author and director. Little known is that his wife, Catherine Robbe-Grillet, was also an esteemed author of French sado-masochistic literature. Under the name of Jean de Berg, she authored a book in the 1960's entitled: "The Image." It was quickly made into a French sado-erotic film. The Image ("The Punishment of Anne") The film was directed by the art-house pioneer Radly Metzger. Metzger, an American Veteran of war film documentaries for the Army, was making tasteful Therese and Isabelle art films about alternate sexuality in the 1950's and 1960's. The Radley Metzger Collection, Vol. 1 (Therese and Isabelle / The Alley Cats / Camille 2000); Radley Meztger Collection Volume 2 (Little Mother / The Dirty Girls / Score); The Radley Metzger Collection, Vol. 3 (The Lickerish Quartet/ Carmen, Baby/ The Princess and the Call Girl)
It is hard for current generations to understand how American culture has puritanically repressed our explorations in our own sub-conscious eroticism. Grillet, his wife, and Metzger explored BDSM over a period of almost fifty years. They often came under severe criticisms from contemporaries. However, they braved the public censure in order to present us with a tour of our own unexplanable sub-conscious eroticism.
Notwithstanding the relentless censure on such explorers as Grillet and Metzger, they are to be taken seriously in literature and film. Grillet was elected to the very elite "Academie Francaise." There are only 32 members of this pinnacle of French culture. He received an Oscar nomination for a brilliant film: Last Year at Marienbad. Other films in the sado-erotice genre, given to us by Grillet, include: La Belle Captive; Trans-Europ-Express. These films are considered exploitative by many, but, are deep explorations of our unconscious minds and the mysterious impulses they gift to us.
The title "Gradiva" comes from a German novel about a man who has a relationship with a dead woman by the name of "Gradiva." It was the only work of literature which Sigmund Freund attempted to psychoanalyze in order to explain the frequently unexplainable about our unconscious.
Grillet was also fascinated with the sketches and biography of De la Croix who explored sado-eroticism in Algeria in the 19th century.
Grillet weaves the biography of De la Croix, exploring his own eroticism, with the fascinating insights provided to us by Freud in his analysis of "Gradiva."
I give this film five stars because: (1) It is tasteful (even though focusing on some violence and sadistic sequences); (2) It is a serious exploration of human sexuality and human consciousness; and (3) the film is packed with powerful, meaningful images that invite us into the director's views of a complex, mysterious and often over-powering subject - our own erotic consciousness.
This film focuses on dual realities. It is an exploration of the consciousness with which we experience reality, and, the consciousness with which we experience our dreams. There is an earlier Italian film (1973) that has similar sado-erotic themes. You might find it useful for comparing this film. Baba Yaga. Here are some other films exploring sado-erotic themes: The Libertine (Also directed by Radley Metzger and starring a very young Jean Louis Tritignant); The Story of O (One of the earliest, and, most popular films dealing with women's sexual liberation through sado-eroticism);