Soul of Honor
Starring: Ester Salbá as Krista, the sister
Petra Dymácková as Paulina, the sister
Lars Moebius as the father, Mr. Erlich
Veronika Velká as Dora, the maid
Tereza Tomášková as the mother
Pavel Štastn? as the headmaster
Ferdinand Šmikmátor as Dr. Vogeltanz
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes
Review by Katrina
This film has the subtitle "die Ehre über alles", which translated from the German means "honor above everything". It is a very dark film, reminiscent of their earlier work "The Orphan" in that it deals with the torturous side of a personality; that side of the personality which causes other people to cringe. There seems to be little happiness in this household. This is a household that is run by fear. In keeping with the nature of the film, the music is primarily low tones. The colors are also a dark shade. There are few bright colors, mainly dark browns and blacks. It has many aspects of the noir style. This is also one of their longer films, running about 75 minutes.
This film revolves around the principle character, the father. It is the father's honor which must be preserved. It is the father's standing in the community that must be preserved. His two daughters, his wife, and their maid must respect the father's dominion over their lives, their dignity, and their souls. The father also wanted a son; he was blessed with only two daughters.
The film opens with the mother and two daughters doing needlepoint while they are waiting for Mr. Erlich, their father, to return home. Shortly before he is to return, the daughters, Krista and Paulina, are sent to their room to await him there. As the wife puts away the needlepoint, she checks to ensure that there is no dust on the cupboard. She must have known that he would check it upon his return.
Soon, the doorbell rings and the maid opened the door. Dora, the maid, is immediately admonished by the father because she did not look to see who was there before opening the door. He is concerned about his property being stolen by a thief that the maid might have let in the door because she did not look through the peep-hole.
He enters the study and doesn't say a word. His wife knows his routine. After inspecting for dust, he changes into a smoking jacket and she kisses him. He then goes to the girl's room where he finds them studying.
At this point, we find the start of the movie's plot as it relates to the other two principal characters, his daughters. The father asks them about their schoolwork. They explain what they have been studying. Then he asks about their essays. The two daughters explain that they failed but they will make them up. He is incensed and said that they would not have said anything if he did not ask and therefore they lied to him. "Liars! Plain Liars!" he yells. They have a choice, isolation to "the vault" or a beating. The girls choose the vault. The look of fear coming from the girls permeates the room as they cower on their knees.
When he returns to the study he rings for Dora. He must deal with her indiscretion of not looking to see who was at the door. This man's intentions for the maid, who has answered his summons, become evident here when he asks her "Why are you buttoned up so tight? Unbutton yourself. There is no need to walk around like a nun." As she unbuttons the top button to her dress, he tells her to keep going. Eventually, they are all unbuttoned and he starts to probe her blouse with his walking cane. "This is what you did wrong. You forgot to look" he told her. She replied, in a meek tone, "I know. I am sorry. It won't happen again." "I know because this is what would happen if it did again - turn around." As she turns around, he lifts her dress and "checks her out below" taping her proffered bottom with his cane.
When his wife enters with coffee, she asks him to stop tormenting the maid. The response was "I can't?" as if it was his right to do so. This is obviously a man who longs for the return of the feudal system. After all, he is the one who makes the decisions in this household. Then he says a critical line, "Besides if you were twenty years younger, maybe I wouldn't leave you alone." This man is playing around on the side. At this point the wife breaks down. She realizes that it is hopeless and she will have no future with this man. All that she can be is the mother to her two daughters. To remove all doubt, he tells her that she looks like a "skinned rabbit, loathsome, scum, worse than the maid." The writing is on the wall. He wants the maid.
The father is already the villain in the household. That part is obvious. All that the wife can do is to weep into her handkerchief. I felt for her sorrow as he sent her out.
The next scene we are treated to the two daughters, dressed in their nightgown, being escorted to "the vault". The vault is a cold, dark, and dank basement room, full of spiders and rats, and other goblins of the mind. There the two daughters are to remain for the night, in the dark. And since they might soil their nightgowns, they are to remain in the vault naked, stripped of their nightgowns, modesty, and warmth. They are only left with the spiders, rats, and their fears for company.
Dawn eventually comes and the sisters are released from their dungeon prison. Later, the headmaster discusses their school future with Krista. He tells her that she has less than two months to redeem her father's name. He has written notes to her father explaining the situation of both hers and Paulina's failing grades. This letter forms the remainder of the plot line.
This leads to a discussion between the sisters over their plight. They know that their father will beat them for the poor grades. The letters leave no doubt. Perhaps they could leave home before he returns? Perhaps their mother will intercede on their behalf? No, that won't work. The father does not care what his wife, their mother, says. He is only concerned what his friends say, not his family.
Shortly, their father returns home with his friend, Dr. Vogeltanz, while they test the maid to ensure that she does not just open the door. She remembers what he said the evening before and what would happen to her if she just opened the door. After entering and ordering coffee, they retire to the lounge. The doctor is gracious to his wife; while he shoos his wife to leave him to "man talk". She dutifully complies while he fetches the cigars for his friend.
The conversation eventually turns to a discussion of Dr Vogeltanz's legal profession. It seems that he was primarily conducting criminal cases, but now wishes to start to practice civil cases. It seems that civil cases are more profitable. Mr. Erlich enquires about the costs associated with adoption of a son since his wife has only given him daughters. But his friend recommends against it. But the father is instant as Dr. Vogeltanz departs.
Apparently, while the father was entertaining his visitor, Paulina chooses to take a bath. Summoning the maid to wash her back, Paulina laments that she will be beaten by her father when he discovers the letter. Dora informs her that she knows of a liquid that will erase ink and suggests that she could help change the letter. Paulina insists that Dora obtain the vanishing liquid and that she won't inform her father about Dora's part in the conspiracy.
Dora returns with the chemical and Katrina retrieves the letter. Over Katrina's insistence that they test the chemical, Paulina spreads it over the letter and it burns through the paper. I must admit that is some way to remove the ink... paper included! Now, things are much worse.
In one of those strange life twists, while walking outside who should Mr. Erlich encounter but the headmaster himself who offers Mr. Erlich the hospitality of his carriage since they need to discuss important matters; his daughters' education and their failing grades. The headmaster does not quite understand why Mr. Erlich did not know the situation since he had written him some letters. The headmaster can not understand the attitude when he suggests remedial classes and Mr. Erlich is incensed at the issue. The attitude was obvious. It was Mr. Erlich's bravado because he knew nothing of the letters. His daughters failed to give him the letters; just as they failed to tell him about their compositions the day earlier.
At this point, the father returns home. His daughters have shamed him. His daughters have failed. His daughters have lied again. His anger and his shame are immense while his honor is impugned. His daughters must pay for this humiliation. From the cabinet, he selects a cane to be placed on the ottoman. It is obvious what will happen tonight.
He summons the maid and asks for a cigar and coffee. While serving his cigar he asks the maid if she would like to have a son. Dora tells him yes, she would if she could find a kind man. Perhaps that was a mistake with this man as we will later see. When Dora returns with the coffee and cognac, he requests to see his daughters. Dora finds them studying and while they initially balk at going, they eventually resign to go to their fate at the hands of their father with fear in their eyes.
They arrive in the lounge, apprehensive and with heads hung low. Their eyes never leave the sight of the cane, resting on the stool. He asks about their French studies and the girls tell him that while they are working on improving, they are not failing. Now he knows that they are lying and cheating. Before he can say anything, the wife bursts in and pleads for her daughter's fate. Now it is worse. Now it is a conspiracy.
He will deal with his wife later as she is ordered of the room. She will obviously pay a similar price tonight for having interrupted him. The father demands the school letter from his now terrified daughters. The girls tell him that there is no letter. He knows better and repeats the demand. At this point, the girls know that their fate is sealed. They know that there is no way to get around the situation and they must give him the letter. Paulina scurries off to retrieve the scorched letter.
When he reads the letter and notices the darkened hole, his rage explodes over the defaced letters, since the girls attempted to change the letter and defraud him. He won't let anyone stain his name.
He tosses the cane on the floor and, after throwing Krista to the floor, demands that his daughter fetch the cane; with her teeth, on her hands and knees. She is to fetch it like a dog and humbly give it to him. This scene is powerful. It demonstrates the submissive nature of his daughters to his blinding authority.
Once the cane has been retrieved, he demands to know what happened to the letters. Paulina tells him that they put a chemical on it. He wants to know where she got the chemical. Katrina tries to lie but Paulina tells him that Dora, the maid, obtained it. Two daughters are sent to the bathroom to remove all of their clothes and prepare for their punishment. Later, after the daughters have disrobed, Dora arrives and tells them that she is to wait in the bathroom while they return to the lounge, their father and his cane.
Paulina is to be caned first. She straddles the ottoman in the middle of the living room with her elbows on the floor, placing her legs on either side of the footstool. In this position it is practically impossible to cane on just the bottom. You must hit the legs as well. That must be his intention.
The caning of Paulina begins with the usual vigor and force that she has experienced before at his hand. During the caning he laments that he has two worthless daughters and that a son would be better. "A son would have his father's blood in him. A son knows what honor is. Honor above everything. But only a son can understand that!" That makes things even worse as he resumes caning Paulina. Soon, Paulina's bottom and thighs have deep blue bruise marks along with the scarlet stripes of a caning. Her cheeks quiver as the cane strikes. It goes without saying that in this position, her shaved labia is in full view as well. After fifty lashes, her caning is complete. Her bottom is one massive mess of scarlet and blue marks.
Krista is next. She assumes the same undignified position over the ottoman. The caning starts. Krista is more vocal than her sister. She seems to be having a harder time of the cane than Paulina. Yet, that does not deter her father. He can not understand why he can not have a son. He must suffer this female plague. It is as if the reason is focused on Krista. It must be her fault that he does not have a son. Maybe if he beats her enough, he can have a son. So, the thrashing continues. Soon, her bottom and thighs resemble her sister's, black blue and red all over. She receives the same fifty lashes and is then ordered out of his sight. Before they leave, Paulina is sent to the bathroom to tell Dora that she is to be beaten because of her, Paulina.
The sisters retire to their room to rest on the bed. Obviously this is the only way that they will be sleeping for a few nights; on their stomach since their bottoms are now a mass of welts.
As the father enters the bathroom, he finds Dora ashamed in the corner. He tells her to remove all of her clothing and get over the bathtub. There she is to be caned. Her reluctance only leads him to "help" her undress, slowly, almost erotically, one button at a time. Dora's caning is somewhat lighter because he has other plans. Following approximately 35 stokes, he locks the door to the bathroom. He is determined to have a son. If it will not be by his wife, then it will be by the maid. She will get her wish and have a son by a kind man. He is after all a kind man, or so he says as he rapes her.
This film definitely explores the dark side of a personality. The father is a deeply troubled individual, one who is concerned only about his own standing and well being. I found the picture troubling, especially the ending sequence. The ladies are lovely and excellent actors. The father plays his most difficult part to the quintessential role. It is extremely difficult to be so cruel when it is not your basic nature. Therefore, his acting in this film is exquisite. If there was an academy award for this media, I would nominate him for "best actor in a dramatic role". The sets used in this film come from the stock sets for the company and have been used in films since their "Fairy Tale" some years back. (They could use some new wallpaper. The striped pattern is getting rather old by now.) The subject matter, perhaps horrific, is always good. If you liked "The Orphan" then you will like this film.
This studio defines what the art is at its best. It is quickly becoming the standard to which others will be compared in the future.
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