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Alain Robbe-Grillet: Six Films 1963-1974 (Blu-ray Box Set)
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ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET: SIX FILMS 1963-1974 (Blu-ray Box Set)
Perhaps best known as the writer of Alain Resnais' classic cine-conundrum Last Year of Marienbad, Alain Robbe-Grillet was also the director a number of stylish, controversial and erotic films which starred such icons of French cinema as Jean-Louis Trinignant (Haneke's Amour, Bertolucci's The Conformist), Marie-France Pisier (Truffaut's Stolen Kisses and Bed and Board) and Isabelle Huppert (Claire Denis' White Material, Haneke's Amour).
Impossible to see for decades, these enigmatic, sexually-charged films have now been collected together for the very first time, and are made available here in beautifully remastered High Definition presentations, with extra features including video introductions by Catherine Robbe-Grillet, filmed interviews with Alain Robbe-Grillet by Frederic Taddei, and newly-recorded, exclusive feature-length commentaries by cult cinema authority Tim Lucas.
This Blu-ray box set includes: The Immortal One (1963), Trans-Europ Express (1967), The Man Who Lies (1968), Eden and After (1970), N. Rolls the Dice (1971) and Successive Slidings Into Pleasure (1974).
- All six films presented in High Definition
- Video introductions by Catherine Robbe-Grillet
- Filmed interviews with Alain Robbe-Grillet by Frederic Taddei
- Exclusive, full-length audio commentaries by Tim Lucas
- Illustrated booklet with extended essay by David Taylor, and full film credits
* subject to change
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However, the 1990s explosion of interest in 'cult' cinema led to a revival of interest in Robbe-Grillet, although people generally only know his films from poor copies of old videos, often without subtitles, circulating online.
So this BFI box set has been genuinely long awaited & I'm pleased to report that it is just about exactly what people have been hoping for - 6 films on 5 discs: restored prints, new English subtitles, each film also has its trailer, long interviews with Robbe-Grillet filmed shortly before his death (he doesn't look a well man) plus new short personal (& eccentric) introductions to each film by Catherine Robbe-Grillet and detailed & informative audio commentaries from cult film guru Tim Lucas. There's also a booklet with an overview essay. Unfortunately there is one film from the period Le Jeu avec le feu (1975) missing - oh well you can't have everything.
Robbe-Grillet uses pulp fiction plots but reorders the scenes into various permutations, like a set of musical variations. He also fragments the editing / juxtaposition of individual shots in the hyper-montage 'mosaic' or scrambled jigsaw style (think Nic Roeg or East European directors of the 1960s). Initially the idea seemed to be to evoke the stream of consciousness - the way the mind zaps back & forth through perceptions, memory, imagination and fantasy, but Robbe-Grillet carried on long after the style became passé, it became his very own signature style.
Obviously these films will not appeal to everyone, but I suspect that in 2014 Robbe-Grillet's style will be quite accessible and that, notwithstanding the S/M elements, more people will enjoy the period 1970s hippy eroticism rather than be offended by it.
Here's a few quick thoughts on the films:
DISC ONE: THE IMMORTAL ONE (1963) a man visiting 'exotic' Istanbul encounters a femme fatale, after she mysteriously disappears he tries to find her again. This is very much a companion piece to Marienbad, lots of long tracking shots, beautiful black & white cinematography. This film has always had a bad press, but I thought it was very dreamy & haunting (if a little soporific). I'm sure David Lynch must have seen this when he was a young impressionable film student
DISC TWO: TRANS EUROPE EXPRESS (1967) probably the best known film here & the closest to Godard / New Wave. Robbe-Grillet and wife Catherine on the express, trying to come up with a thriller plot for a film about a smuggler on a train. Trintignan is also on the train, playing himself playing the actor who plays the smuggler. Gradually the lines between the story and making up the story become hopelessly blurred. Not just a funny in-joke, the film gets quite haunting and with a disturbing edge (largely because of the S/M scenes). The great Jean-Louis Trintignan is perfect in the lead role(s). Black & white - a decent print showing up the intriguing cinematography & editing
DISC THREE: THE MAN WHO LIES (1968) a man returns to a village after the war and tells various contradictory stories about his time in the resistance - are he and his still missing comrade heroes or traitors? Black & white, outstanding cinematography. A rather downbeat film, similar to Robbe-Grillet's early novels. Of course he throws in some erotic scenes but they seemed a rather inappropriate distraction to me. Still, a very interesting film (a big favourite of Deleuze) - Robbe-Grillet was certainly lucky to have Trintignan as his leading man, I can't imagine anyone else pulling off these kinds of complicated self-reflexive roles.
DISC FOUR: EDEN AND AFTER (1970) + N TOOK THE DICE (1971) Into the 1970s with a switch into blazing full-on colour cinematography, beautiful sets and beautiful landscapes - and beautiful cast! The ostensible plot is even less important than in the other films, suffice to say Catherine Jourdan (last seen in the cloakroom with Alain Delon in Melville's Le Samurai) runs about a lot in various states of undress. The first part of Eden concerns the decadent nihilist younger generation acting out games & role-plays for kicks (the ageing director's fantasy of permissive youth, no doubt) but the second half of the film set in Tunisia gets completely tripped out and all the better for it. I particularly like the bit when Jourdan encounters her double.
Robbe-Grillet used chance procedures to rearrange the sequences of scenes & permutations of shots in Eden to make an alternate version for French TV, a kind of 'remix', which in part explains the method of Eden but ends up becoming a rather laboured pastiche of the original film. It brought to mind Mike Figgis' Timecode and the possibility of multiple versions of the same film. N Took the Dice has been little seen, so well done BFI for including it here.
DISC FIVE: SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE (1974) By this point Robbe-Grillet was improvising his films quickly on low budgets and this film is little more than the director's usual fetishistic obsessions thrown together in a jokey way without much real sense of structure or purpose. The film still manages to look good with some memorable images & scenes (particularly the various scenes on the coast & beach) but the law of diminishing returns was setting in. Lead actress Anicee Alvina is decorous but a bit weak with the dialogue (such as it is) and struggles to hold the film together the way Robbe-Grillet's previous leading actors & actresses did.
Overall, I guess questions of whether these films are subversive or reactionary, art or pornography - or even good or bad - have become irrelevant. Anyone already interested in Robbe-Grillet's films will thoroughly enjoy this box set - anyone else should probably proceed with caution.
The films themselves are interesting slices of non-linear, arthouse/surrealism with lashes of trashy sex and B-movie conventions throughout.
The most famous of these is the once-controversial Trans Europ Express, which still packs a punch and is easily the most accessible film here.
Having said that, Successive Slidings of Pleasure has a dark murder mystery at its core and is filled with haunting, graphic imagery (such as the photo on the boxset's cover).
Eden and After is also startling.
Picture quality for each film is very, very good (1080p HD). Original French audio in Master HD with optional English subtitles.
Extras include thorough Tim Lucas commentaries, 30-minute interviews with Robbe-Grillet for each film, introductions from his widow, and a collectors booklet with excellent liner notes.
The discs are Region B.
A fine set, well done BFI. Not for everyone, very arty and kinky. But I loved it.
Most of the women featured in his films (and the focus is very much on females) including his wife, are very, very beautiful. The cinema-photography is excellent - whether in black and white or colour. The script is, well, an attempt at surrealism without the greatness of Buñuel - and has many repetitive 'icons' or 'fetishes' - the colour red, broken glass, shoes, the female body, the shore. I feel that his films are a product of passion of anteros rather than eros (unrequited, physical passion rather than spiritual, unconditional love) which seem to reflect Robbe=Grillet's own condition.
For anyone interested in French or word cinema - they are a must. But do not expect to be entertained. I've struggled trying to contextualise his work - and the best I can come up with is a cross between Dali and a more Gallic, sophisticated (if there can be such a thing) Benny Hill.