Saturday, June 09, 2007

KILLING CAR (JEAN ROLLIN, 1993)




Killing Car is a far departure from the elements of le fantastique that decorate the directors earlier and more well known films. There are no vampires, zombies, and Rollin's beloved beach from his childhood is also absent. However, despite the lack of any element of the fantastic, the film still retains the directors mark.

The film shows a series of vaguely related vignettes that depict a mysterious women killing various people, one after another, for an unknown reason. The film starts with this woman stealing a car from a scrap yard and killing the owner, which is followed by a chase through abjectly isolated terrain, climaxing at an empty fairground. Unfortunately, the pace of the first scene, which is similar to the chase scene at the beginning of a much more developed Rollin film, Requiem for a Vampire, is never quite matched throughout the rest of the film.

Part of the problem is that the vignettes really seem strung together without any spatial or temporal unity. The only thing linking each of the scenes is the woman killer and a duo of vaguely apathetic police officers who don't appear to be doing any work on the crimes outside of showing up at the crime scenes and commenting on the toy cars that she's leaving behind as a trademark. At one point one of the officers remarks "We know she's a woman," but nothing that the audience is aware has revealed how exactly they know this.

None of the scenes take place in what could be considered a unified sense of space, either. Ranging from the junkyard, to what would appear to be the French country-side, to an empty office building, to a boat dock, there is no signifier to indicate where these locations are in relation to each other. In fact, each seems to exist without a relationship to anywhere, existing solely as the space that is inhabited. And while it's an interested atmosphere, it doesn't help the film as a whole; it's just too disjointed.

The sense of time is also ultimately distorted, which is nothing new for a Rollin film. The aforementioned scene that starts in the junkyard begins with a woman of 20 walking outside in her pajamas, yawning and stretching, seeming to indicate that it's morning. Within about five minutes of screen time, once the chase has gotten underway, the girl remarks "But it's almost night!" which welcomes darkness, and then shortly after this it is light once again.

While ultimately a lack of spatial or temporal cordination would, in a more major Rollin film, be perfectly acceptable and undoubtedly augment the poetic, dreamlike atmosphere that Rollin is wonderful at creating, in this film it exists only as a hindrance. The major problem with the film actually lies withing the dialogue and the acting.

While acting in a Rollin film generally consists of a sort of anti-acting that I largely admire within the context of Rollin's filmography, the actors, outside of Tiki Tsang and Rollin himself (in a cameo) are very poor. The actors, in this case, are actually trying too hard, in a very sort of over-dramatic way which is a major detriment towards any atmosphere Rollin is trying to create. Combining this overstated, poor acting method with the films dialogue, which is utterly cliche, creates a sort of campy farcical environment, which is utterly out of place within the film.

In fact much of the film seems to be some sort of odd, minimal parody of the thriller genre, where every minor opportunity to throw in the obvious is taken. If this had been the first Rollin film that I had ever seen I would immediately consider it a ridiculous train wreck, as that's actually more or less what it is. It's mood is completely off throughout almost the entire film, and not in a compelling sort of way. When the main motivation of the killer herself is revealed in what would generally be considered a climactic scene, it is actually something utterly banal and almost a mockery of the moment of revelation in more general thriller/revenge films.

Despite how bad it is, like I said initially, there are still elements of the film that are utterly Rollin, and it's these moments that will make the film slightly rewarding for the dedicated Rollin fan. To begin, the aforementioned disjointed sense of space, while bad for the film, still sort of exists in the utterly depersonalized, blank setting that most of Rollins films exist in. The locations on their own are fairly amazing, always more or less totally devoid of any form of life-- if there's one thing that Rollin understands, it's how to make wide open spaces seem more dangerous and claustrophobic that tightly closed spaces.

Many of the deaths in the film are also direct references to earlier works of Rollins. In one scene, Tiki Tsang pops out of a grandfather clock, a la Shiver of the Vampires, in another, she wields a scythe invoking the image of Brigitte Lahaie on the bridge in Fascination. In another, she kills with a pitchfork, invoking the rural events that occur in both Grapes of Death and the beginning of Living Dead Girl. Also, according to Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill in their quintessential Immoral Tales, an entire segment of the film consists of outtakes from Rollin's 1989 film Lost in New York. Aside from these images, two of Rollin's favorite actors, Michel Gentil and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou also have small roles.

With these signifiers suggesting that Rollin was possibly intending this film to be a subtle career "overview," one is forced to question the nature of Rollin's filmography itself. Is Rollin, who himself gets killed at the end of the film, condemning his work? It seems unlikely, as in interviews Rollin seems very passionate and proud of his major films. So the motivation behind the film is a mystery.

Fortunately for the viewer, the last 10 minutes or so of the film fall into a more familiar Rollin atmosphere; the film culminating with Tiki Tsang walking slowly through an empty, dead field. She herself is now vacant, almost a zombie, reminiscent of many of the vampires of Rollin's earlier career. But what's important here is the image itself, The stark contrast of the empty field with the sky calls to mind the all important beach in Rollin's film world, and this subversion, matching the visual schemata of his favorite image, is obviously a very conscious decision on Rollin's part. And while this ending doesn't transcend the mediocrity of the rest of the film, it does instill a sense of relief in the viewer as it reveals that Rollin is still the same man he's always been.

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