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IRON ROSE [La Rose de fer; Rose of Iron] (1973)
Published by Film Fanaddict on 2008/7/27 (3197 reads)
Directed by Jean Rollin
Review by Aaron W. Graham
Released by Redemption Films
Running Time: 76 minutes
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: Dolby Digital 2.0 / English Subtitles
Region Code: 1
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
16:9 Enhanced: No
Special Features: Jean Rollin’s short film LES PAYS LOINS (1965); Theatrical Trailer; Coming Attractions
Trailer Online: No
French fantasist filmmaker Jean Rollin specializes and delights in Sapphic horror, vividly photographing and lushly fetishizing the nubile young bodies of the gorgeous women that have gone in front of his lenses. A cinema of cerebral and subconscious dreams and terrors, Rollin’s art-horror mélanges are wholly intuitive takes on traditional gothic modes and motifs, including such established commonalities as courteous vampires, fang-bared bats, and Living Dead Girls. Rollin sets forth to establish and then break former normative rules of narrative, analyzing them with his paucity while celebrating their timelessness.
As his pictures were relying more and more on titillation and less on mood (1973 marking the year that Rollin would take up the pseudonym “Michel Gentil” for his harder-core exploits), Rollin set out to produce THE IRON ROSE using his own money, figuring he would take a bath on an experimental project but would make his investments back in the years to come by making more pornographic-centered films. Inspired by the work of poèt maudit Tristan Corbière (1845-1875), Rollin fashioned a loose scenario that was later to be largely worked out on the spot by his actors (the stunning Françoise Pascal and Pierre Dupont, billed as Hugues Quester after many on-set squabbles with Rollin forced the actor to want to remove his real name) and dialogue writer Maurice Lemaître. The encroaching atmosphere of an ominous maze-like cemetery being the pièce de résistance of the film, Rollin only needed to get his actors playing amongst the tombstones and underground crypts for his muse to appear and his obsessions to rise to the surface.
The story, very simply, details the stages of an early romance between raven-haired, eye-shadowed beauty Pascal and straight-laced Dupont. Wooing her by reciting a short poem at a banquet, Dupont arranges for the two to take a bike ride alongside a broken-down train to a barren cemetery. Arriving at the latter, Dupont overcomes Pascal’s hesitance at hanging out in such a location by aloofly play-acting a familiarity with the dead, and they eventually make love down in a burial chamber. Other visitors paying their respects to the deceased make their presence known (including one of Rollin’s famed clowns, adding a touch of surrealism to the mix), but Pascal’s point-of-view soon becomes comfortable with the dead, ridiculing Dupont’s former nonchalant actions as she begins to embrace the darker, final side of life. Dupont disregards her giddy transfixed reaction, and he all but vanishes, allowing Pascal to reflect upon the opening scene of the titular flower washing up on a foggy beach (she studies the corrugated iron rose, disbelieving that something so realistic could not be alive, adding but another theoretical dimension to Rollin’s film). As night presses on, Pascal contentedly obscures the line between her current life and death, irrationally acting out against unseen horrors and repeatedly waxing poetically about how she’s alive and her present company is dead, before finally aligning herself with the murky graveyard and its inhabitants. She settles inside the crypt where her former tryst occurred, awaiting a new day’s group of guests.
Redemption’s new DVD is presented in a somewhat blurry transfer, perhaps the result of a PAL master being converted to the North American NTSC. The sound mix highlights Pierre Raph’s disquieting and effective score, a remarkably strong soundtrack for a Jean Rollin film. Most welcoming is a short Rollin made before his first feature: LES PAYS LOINS, from 1965. Utilizing a title from a never-published book, LES PAYS LOINS (which translates roughly into THE DISTANT LANDS) is a surprisingly political, compositionally sound, jazz-infused tale of a man and a woman fenced-in, forced to face their outsider status in a narrow-minded and constrictive town, constantly on the run from an unseen force. Filmed in black & white (1970’s THE NAKED VAMPIRE would be his first color work), Rollin favors long, angular shots with shadows and building edges warily jutting out, almost like serrated knifes pointing out towards our unnamed protagonists. There’s an impressive one-take of the man inside a friend’s apartment, with a camera rhythmically darting back and forth on their conversation, carefully picking up the backside of a dialogue-less female lounges on the unmade bed with every switch.
A theatrical trailer (running roughly 3 minutes) and Stills Galleries (for both THE IRON ROSE and LES PAYS LOINS) round out this Redemption release.
Rollin’s first film, RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (1967), infuriated legions of audience members (including some of the film’s actors!) so much that it resulted in many walkouts before the end of the picture. It may all come down to the languid pacing that has since become a trademark of Rollin’s cinema -- it doesn’t even seem to matter that the characters slowly creeping from long shot to close-up in Rollin’s frames are oftentimes in the buff, for most viewers become dreadfully bored before the bare breasts on display are close enough to see clearly. It’s with good reason that this project, a labor of love, feels the most pure of any of his films, uncoiling directly from his mind’s eye with every sustained long-shot: the musty dwellings, element-worn headstones, the saddened clown, and the attractive, sometimes nude woman all vying for Rollin’s attention as he ponders their fate in a deserted gothic space. Rollin’s sophisticated visions truly need to be ruminated over, dislodged from the status quo of what has gone before in the genre, and appreciated for the way they combine a dark mythos-poetic fused with an unparalleled ethereal eroticism.
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