Tough and Tender takes the opportunity to explore the claustrophobic, repressive context of prison life and the resulting traits that come with it, like guilt, paranoia compulsion and obsession.
Jean-Daniel Cadinot chooses a reform school outside of Paris as his setting. Here he uses a claustrophobic barracks-like dormitory with the illusion of freedom with the open countryside that surrounds the institution.
Overseeing this tightly-knit community are the cynical guards Jacques de Rives and Christof Lighthouse, who turn a blind eye to rape and the exploitation among the inmates, occasionally taking advantage of the boys for their own pleasure.
The actual ruler of the boys' lives is the tough, and never tender Vincent, played with extraordinary ruthlessness by Luigi di Como from Under The Sign of the Stallion). He allows no disobedience from his underlings.
Didier Hamel in Tough and Tender Watch Now
Didier Hamel always on bottom
The boyish Didier Hamel (a scout from Hot on the Trail) plays the new inmate, a tender knave who is never tough enough. After being abused at home, the pattern of abuse reasserts itself in the prison. He is subjected to a painful anal examination by one of the guards, presumably for illegal contraband.
Vincent welcomes him into the fold with a multiple rape by himself and his two henchmen, Patrick Seigneur and Jonathan Levy. The precedent is set, and Hamel finds himself consistently on bottom - in the dormitory, on firewood chores, in the bathroom. He obviously enjoys the sexual attention, but he wants something else.
His affection is never received, just like at home.
His knight in shining armor appears in the form of Jean-Louis Vaissieres, the only inmate who has the toughness to stand up to Vincent. He also extends tenderness to Hamel's affection during sex.
Along with Hamel's story is a sub-plot that develops the character of Vincent. When the leader dispenses cigarettes for his two henchmen in return for sex, Cadinot obviously implies that Vincent is not the real macho toughguys he tries to be, but rather a gay youth who is concealing the truth from himself.
His guilt disallows him from showing affection. His paranoia prevents him from trusting anyone who cannot offer complete submission. His sexual compulsion stems from his obsession to prove his maleness, whether horny or not.
Vincent's Authority Is Challenged
A second new arrival (Gerard Mandrin) takes the plot to its climax, when he joins with Vaissieres to challenge Vincent's authority, which crumbles quickly beneath a direct assault.
Free Previews on NakedSword First to yield are his henchmen. The adorable Patrick Seigneur plays the submissive bottom to Mandrin and Vaissieres. Vincent is confronted at film's end before a quick fade-out. The new regime replaces the old, introducing a poetic justice that humbles the tough and favors the tender.
In a thought-provoking final scene, we see Vincent after his release, cruising the streets of Paris. It is unclear whether he is playing street hustler, or simply roving in search for expressions of his sexual identity. Cadinot clearly filmed this with ambiguity.
By this time the viewer actually cares enough about Vincent to really want to know his fate.
Sexually, this movie rolls out sexual scene after scene full of sexual heat. The actor performances are convincing and realistic. Luigi di Como stands out as the self-hating villain, but the rest of the cast holds its own as well.
The film's controversial sequences are the implied use of violence to initiate the rape scenes, however Cadinot is careful to avoid any outright physical abuse. The threat of violence is the constant means to assure submission of the victim.
Tough and Tender stands as one of Cadinot's most successful films. It is definitely one of the genre's masterpieces.
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