Saturday, September 6, 2008

Movie Review: A Note for Absence

Rigid East (released in 2001)

Entire Story In Fewer Words Than Are In This Sentence:
Pupil thrashed for forging signature

Victim Appeal:
This is the first title in the famous "From the Headmaster's Study" series, published when the wolves still called themselves Rigid East. It stars the same blonde girl who played the princess in The Fairy Tale, another early classic. Since neither video gives acting credits, I will simply call her by her character name here: Maria Dolezalova, a Czech schoolgirl in the turn-of-the-century Habsburg empire.

Maria is a cute lass with a small nose and soulful eyes. Her barely legal youngish looks make her ideal for the role, and she puts them to good use in a wonderful performance. I like Maria's facial expressions in particular - pouting lips, wrinkled brow, wide-eyed surprise, silent puppy dog pleading, she has the whole routine. Her tone of voice - a combination of meekness and defiant, quiet nagging - is another great touch. You just want to tie the girl down and whip her until she screams. Which is of course exactly what happens.

She is sent to the headmaster's office by her teacher, the reason being that there are doubts about the authenticity of an absence note. Miss Dolezalova eventually confesses that she wrote it herself and forged her father's signature. The headmaster is already annoyed with her because she didn't curtsy after coming in. Moreover, the girl has a history of frequently getting in trouble, so he decides that a very severe thrashing is in order this time. He makes it clear that this will be her final warning before expulsion from the school.

Gratuitous Sadism:
Because the "humanist rules of the founders of our institute" only permit 25 lashes per offense, the headmaster gives Maria that amount for the fake note - and another maximum sentence for her lack of manners! Fifty strokes in total, then, a truly memorable lesson. During her ordeal, the girl is tied to the headmaster's caning bench, which would become a frequent (and magnificent) sight in future Lupus productions.

This is the first movie appearance of Pavel Stastny - He of the Left-Handed Full Arm Swings. Therefore, it goes without saying that there is plenty of cruelty to go around. Words can't describe how I admire and envy the guy. The bald, bearded, dark-eyed look, the effortless authoritarian demeanour, not to mention the fact that he has given countless young ladies the hardest caning of their lives. He is fearsome and imposing even for experienced bottoms and exemplifies everything I hopelessly aspire to be. Well, maybe not everything - I have quite a different "ideal self" vision, actually. But I wouldn't mind trading places with Pavel for a day or two, and I'd give anything - anything! - for only a fraction of his natural scariness.

Actually, the beating here lacks the ruthless ultra-severity of some of Headmaster Stastny's later efforts, but it is still fairly hard. My one complaint is that it comes on top of a previous, recent punishment, so the victim's bottom is already vividly marked. In the story, the bruises are explained by a spanking Maria's father gave her the day before. They really are remains from the girl's other Rigid East movie (it's obvious from a misplaced stripe that went on her lower back when she got punished as the naughty princess).

I suppose there are reasons for why the production dates couldn't be set further apart, but I for one think it's a pity. I just find the old marks visually distracting. On the other hand, maybe your taste differs and this is exactly what you love to see - the results from two successive werewolf-style canings (damage be damned!). If that is so, search no further. In any case, it's a pretty good scene, despite my preference for a "fresh canvas".

Lest I forget, there is also a humiliating little segment when the girl has to relieve herself before the punishment, using the pee pot the headmaster has in his office - behind a blind that hides her from view, but doesn't stop the sound, of course. Not really my kind of embarassment fetish, but you might like it.

Best Reactions:
With only one victim and one type of punishment, I obviously can't pick any best reactions. Suffice to say that Maria's are well worth seeing, and listening to - she produces some rather gorgeous screams, loud and anguished, but not over the top, just right. I also like the way her upper body jumps after each stroke. It's the only possible kind of movement in the restraints of the caning bench and very sexy to watch.

Best Line:
When Miss Dolezalova first enters the headmaster's office without dropping a curtsy (or saying "good morning"), he immediately sends her out again. She starts protesting: "But I came because..." He sternly cuts her off: "I don't care why you came. I mind the way you came." I just love that line. Maria eventually gets the entrance ritual right at the third attempt - too late, of course.

Nice Psychological Touch:
The opening shot of the movie immediately captures one's attention. It has the period look of a silent movie, with a yellowish tinge and plenty of grain. A nice little effect. Merry pseudo-ragtime piano music is playing. We see the headmaster sitting at his desk, reading and smoking. A couple of canes hang on the wall beside him. When there is a knock on the door, he hastily puts the book aside and exstinguishes his cigarette. The camera pans to the right, past the chastisement bench, and we see the girl coming through the door. Then the movie slowly fades into a normal, modern look.

It's a typical Lupus scene in several ways. A humorous little idea that takes you right to the time and place, a sense of foreboding as the camera's eye wanders casually over the canes and bench, a delightful mix of lightheartedness and palpable threat. Later on, there is another neat shot when Dolezalova confesses to forging the note and drops to her knees, pleading for mercy. The headmaster wryly remarks: "That's a very fitting position in your situation." The camera uses a high angle shot to illustrate his perspective and a low angle for the girl's. Again, a fittingly old-fashioned way to contrast a powerful character with a subordinate one.

How Good Is It Really?
"A Note for Absence" falls into the transition phase when Rigid East became Lupus Pictures, between the normal living room setting of Wild Party and their later epic, super-professional productions. It takes place in a single location, features only two characters and a fairly straightforward story. But the headmaster's office shows all the loving attention to detail and authenticity that would become their hallmark - the furniture, the period pictures and the cross on the wall, the flourished writing on the note, and so forth. At the time, this was a new standard in spanking movies. Even today, the craftsmanship remains beyond the means of most other producers.

Some flaws are still there. The editing is far from perfect yet - there are too many quick cuts during the caning. Then there is the issue of the girl's old bruises, which is a drawback for me. But while I wouldn't count it among the all-time greats, "A Note for Absence" is a good video by any standard. As the first installment of the "From the Headmaster's Study" series, it is required viewing for Lupus fans for historical value alone.

What You Learned:
The Habsburg monarchy may have been the "sick man of Europe" at the time, but when it came to enforcing discipline, its schools left little to be desired. 25 cane strokes for not dropping a curtsy? That's very harsh indeed. Come to think of it, there is a correlation here - draconian measures are of course typical for tottering, backwards regimes. But they sure are fun to watch on film.


Anonymous said...

Another interesting review, Ludwig.

Just to add an extra note of trivia that might be of interest. Maria Dolezalova was one of the young people kidnapped by German forces after they destroyed the Czech town of Lidice. She was selected as "racially valuable" for Aryanization under the RuSHA (Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt) or Main Race and Resettlement Office, a central organization in the implementation of racial programs of the Third Reich.

There is a photo of her (easily googled) taking the oath as a witness at the Nuremberg trial. She does look like the actress in this video and is wearing a similar uniform too.

Ludwig said...

Thanks for that info, Valdor. I've studied World War 2 in considerable detail and I know about Lidice, but I didn't know the story of Maria Dolezalova. It's interesting (and very sad).

I should have googled it while writing the review, actually. Lupus Pictures always have little tidbits like this in their films (one of the reasons why I like them so much), and I was fairly sure the name meant something, but I didn't check it right away (the review was already overlong as it is!).

Anonymous said...

I like the photo in this movie 'A Note of Absence'. The caning is scene is most erotic, when the master brings down this most painful implement, where it does the most good, namely on the naughty ladies bare bottom.

sixofthebest said...

This scene from the movie, A NOTE OF ABSENCE, is most erotic. And the caning this naughty woman is given is justly deserved.

Count K said...

The moment I saw Maria's pretty face I had to see this movie and I was very happy I did. I have it up there as one of my all time faves of punished students in Lupus. Great review Ludwig. I enjoy your blog very much.