Monday, June 25, 2007


"I see what I weave only from behind, never from the front." A line spoken by Pierrot in the middle of Rivette's film sums up the narrative structure of the 1976 film. We, as viewers, are introduced into events that have already been set forth, and we're unaware of any motivation or reasoning, and it's very frustrating. Things are happening, very distinct, mystical things, and we as viewers can come up with absolutely no explanations.

Duelle tells the story of the daughter of the moon, Leni, and the daughter of the sun, Viva, and they're battle to try to extend their visiting time, in the human world, to a period of more than forty days. The key to their goal lies within a mysterious jewel that, for reasons unknown to the audience, lies within Pierrots hands. We follow as the goddesses manipulate other character in attempts to achieve their goals, having just caught up to the location of the stone at the end of their forty days. And while trying to get the jewel themselves, they also have to face each other, and it is this battle that constructs the heart of the film.

Luckily for the viewer, Pierrots line of dialogue quoted above does come to fruition; as the film unfolds more details become clear. Naturally, not everything is revealed, but this is Rivette's secret; he gives us enough information (eventually) to actually invest an interest the events on screen, and his refusal to explain everything forces us to retain this investment, even when the film is over. It's a very mystical concept for the construction of a film, and it ends up working far better than I had expected at the beginning of the film, which in a drowsy viewing state was somewhat tedious. And in this case, perseverance more than pays off.

According to several online sources, the film was the first in a planned four film series all telling the story of the two goddesses after this stone. Each film was supposed to approach the story with a deconstruction of a genre, with this film modeled after the film noir and the following film, Noirot, being inspired by pirate movies. The third and fourth films never were made due to a nervous breakdown Rivette suffered three days into shooting. And while the information is contextually interesting, the film is successful enough on its own.

Rivette also apparently screened Val Lewton & Mark Robson's The Seventh Victim for his actors and actresses before the film began shooting. The film is a personal favorite of mine, and is what lead to me seeking this film out. The influence of the Lewton film is very evident not only in the remarkably glamorous outfits and movements of the two goddesses, but also in the deliberate sense of detachment which is present when either of the goddesses has to kill a victim. It's also present in the manipulation; in Lewton's film the manipulation serves to obscure the reality of the satanic cult, and in Rivette's film it is used to help the goddesses achieve their goal of getting the jewel.

One of the most wonderful things about the film is the atmosphere it creates, set in a world that is virtually abandoned by all except for the five primary characters. The film also feels like it takes place in a permanent twilight, which no doubt has an influence over the English title of the film, Twilight. The interiors of the film are also primarily set in a dance hall or a hotel, both locations that recall settings of many film noir films. But the influence is perfectly suited in this case, as the locations in their emptiness add to the utter mysticism that the film retains. In fact, the film also calls to mind Harry Kumel's brilliant Daughters of Darkness, which also features protagonists in glamorous outfits that recall silent films, and also has mystical events occurring within a hotel.

Another instance worth noting is the films somewhat bizarre use of sound. All of the music that occurs during the film is indeed diegetic, but often plays as non-diegetic. What I mean by that is often the pianist that is providing the music for whatever scene is being played out is actually on the screen, with none of the characters interacting with them. It's obviously pure experiment, but this pays off because it adds to the aforementioned sense of atmosphere and displacement. A pivotal "battle" scene near the end of the film between Lucie (Pierrot's brother) and Viva also calls to mind Jean Rollin's work, with it's highly apathetic, choreographed movements and utter lack of music.

Despite these seemingly very cinematic points, the film avoids deconstructing a genre in the way that Godard deconstructs the spy film in Alphaville; Rivette's film does not come off and over-analytical and intentional, rather it is a film that, like the events that happen within it, is itself mystical. While the film is very very dense and thought-provoking, it's not an intellectual film in the classical sense of the term. An intellectual reading of the film would fall flat, because, as I mentioned before, there are not enough answers that would provide an intellectual context for certain scenes. Rather, the scenes exists and work without an explanation because of the mystical approach Rivette takes.

I suppose I should clarify that by "mystical" I mean to imply that it has a "spiritual reality" that isn't immediately clear to the mind or the senses. As I've mentioned before, there are many fantastic events that occur on the film that have virtually no explanation, but due to the film existing in this sort of mystical state, it is perfectly coherent, and these scenes simply add to the intensity and tone. In fact, I'm sure that is why the film is often relegated to the ghetto as a minor film; Rivette follows all the "rules" of le fantastique, whereas his major films are all clearly Nouvelle Vague arthouse films. This is a more clearcut example of the kinds of films I'm prone to visiting here, an arthouse fantasy film. It draws from classic genre films as much as it does from the canonized arthouse. And it's something that I really appreciate.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


aka Le Orme

Most English speaking audiences are primarily familiar with Luigi Bazzoni from his 1971 Giallo film, The Fifth Cord. While I'm not a huge fan of that film itself (outside of a few particular sequences), I have always thought that it was one of the most beautifully shot gialli films made, featuring beautiful tracking shots and an amazing use of colors. Footprints, which was Luigi Bazzoni's next film, made four years later, once again was lens by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, and is just as beautiful, but luckily, far more interesting.

The film begins with a dream that Alice (Florinda Bolkan, who always has the lead role in Fulci's 1971 gialli Lizard in a Woman's Skin) has, which follows a man being abandoned on the moon only to die out of exasperation. She wakes up and quickly realizes that she has lost two days time-- she thinks it is only Tuesday, but in actuality it's Thursday. Confused about how she could have slept for such a long time, she begins to find clues around her beautifully lavish apartment that would indicate she may not have actually slept through the days. The biggest clue she finds is a postcard with the text "Garma Hotel" on the back. In an attempt to figure out what has happened to her lost time, she travels to Garma and checks into the hotel that appeared on her postcard.

Once there she encounters many characters who seem to recognize her, and as she puts the pieces together she has no idea who to trust. The dream that opens the film is apparently, in Alice's mind, a film she once saw long ago, but she never saw the ending as the film frightened her too much. Haunted by the film and her utter confusion, she strives to come to a realization of what's happening, and what has happened.

Once the character of Alice arrives on the island, she is utterly alone. The hotel she stays in is largely empty except for a few guests, and the epic walls and staircases help to perfectly emphasize her loneliness. It also contributes to the paranoid mood that permeates almost every scene. In fact, the combination of a large hotel and amnesia immediate draws to mind Alain Resnais' brilliant Last Year at Marienbad which this film somewhat resembles.

Both films feature female protagonists whose past is called under examination by a man who claims to have shared a relationship with them, and both deal with the idea of depersonalization and memory, in a very cyclic, enigmatic way. Both end in a climax that leaves the viewer questioning the events that have been depicted on screen, and their validity. The film also recalls Alain Robbe-Grillet's L'Immortelle with the endless wandering of the protagonist, searching for something that is well out of their reach. However, Footprints isn't quite as intellectually accomplished as these films, relying somewhat more on surface level details than any sort of intellectual, or even emotional, core. However, one major difference between the two films and Footprints is the fact that this film was shot in brilliant colors, and compositions that perfectly balance Alice's loneliness with large, structured images, placing Alice even smaller in the frame, helping to create the psychological framework that is obviously present.

What makes the film most successful is it's combination of isolation and beautiful cinematography in the creation of atmosphere. Like I've already mentioned, framing Alice against much larger, empty structures helps to not only emphasize her aloofness, but also create a dreamy mood that makes all of the events, despite how slightly surreal they might seem, work.

Despite many of it's strong points, Footprints still falls prey to a general trope of the psychological thriller; Alice's frustration with her inadequacy and confusion results in more of a sense of irritated-ness rather than true pain. Most of her frustration is taken out on a young girl who is a key element in helping her cull an idea of her missing time. But regardless, the fantastic elements of the film make up for this slight and overall the film is a rewarding experience.


Jean Rollin has remarked that he wrote the script for Requiem for a Vampire in three days. He started with images- two clowns being chased, a woman playing a piano in a field, and the went from there. His approach to writing the script was similar to that of the surrealists in their methods of automatic writing; he just jumped from image to image without censoring his subconscious. Even while shooting, he refused to change anything from his original script, it had come out of his head that way so he insisted on keeping it that way.

Somewhat surprisingly, it turned out fantastic (and not only in the fantastique way). The plot follows two beautiful young girls as they escape from something unknown, and fall into the clutches of a renegade group of individuals protecting the last vampire. There is little to no dialogue for the first hour of the film, another factor that Rollin was very proud of. It's very fast paced, and never really drags, all the while remaining beautiful, mysterious, and a tad melancholic.

I say melancholic because the last vampire himself has accepted the fact that his legacy will soon be over. He tells Marie (played by the always great Marie-Pierre Castel) that he has a secret for her, and his secret is that he will soon die. He admits this fact with a noble sense of defeat. His followers are beastly, except for a woman who plays the piano; she accepts her fate to guard the tomb, suffering the defeat far more heavily than the last vampire himself.

The film, aside from handling the randomly-written screenplay quite congruously, handles quick mood changes very admirably. The film jumps from scenes of playfulness (Michelle taunting the man with her nude body) to tenderness (Maraie sacrificing her virginity in order to save herself from the vampires) to terror (the woman vampire stalking up the stairs) and throughout remains consistent, overall very dreamy.

Aside from the mood, music is more present than in almost any other Rollin feature to date. Instead of the normal ghostly silence that generally haunts most of Rollin's films, almost every scene is backed by Pierre Raph's wonderfully extensive score. In the same way the film itself changes moods rapidly, as does the soundtrack, ranging from psych-rock to piano ballads to Gothic orchestrations.

The film also briefly touches upon the idea of love, as is a regular occurrence throughout Rollin's filmography. The two girls who have run away together love each other with an intense childish naivety; they are, and will always be, best friends. It's not a sexual love, despite a scene earlier in the film where the two playfully fondle each others breasts in bed, it's something far more pure. And, very surprisingly, the girls manage to leave the events while still in their state of naivety, despite having been violated (either by a penis as in Marie's case, or by the vampires bloodsucking, like Michelle).

Overall the film is a very playful instance of Rollin's amazing career, and is one of his best works. It is beautifully shot, with most of the beauty radiating from the two girls, who Rollin finds beautiful ways to frame over and over again. While not as intellectually stimulating as many of Rollin's other films, it's still a remarkable aesthetic experience and carries a naivety of cinema that Rollin himself loved.

Friday, June 15, 2007


The Third Part of the Night was the first film Andrzej Zulawski ever made, and, throughout his troubled career, it's one of his only films that has been critically acclaimed, at least in his homeland of Poland where it won an award for Best Debut Film at the Polish Film Festival.

Ostensibly a film about the German occupation of Poland during World War II, Zulawski takes a treatment written by his father (based on his personal experiences) and turns it into an emotionally loaded trip through the guilt of a young man, Michael, who has witnessed the death of his wife and child, himself escaping. He escapes from the countryside where the incident has occurred, and while working for an opposing force barely escapes death as he runs up a staircase (a key image in the Zulawski filmography) and hides while a man who resembles him gets gunned down instead. Fleeing into the room of the wife of the man who has just taken his place, he comes to a realization that she almost perfectly resembles his own now dead wife. Throughout the rest of the film the man is constantly battling his own ideas in regards to love, especially a difference between the idea of love as self-sacrifice (as in, the high point of love is loving somebody else), and love as self-preservation (having somebody love you, having a child).

Zulawski, above all, is a filmmaker who works best in depicting extreme emotions, and his premiere film is no exception. While it isn't as developed in terms of his specific techniques as his later films, from the opening sequence which depicts the death of Michal's wife, Zulawski's hand held camera is present. Zulawski approaches cinema very directly, forcing the viewer, with his cinematographers floating camera, to not witness the events occurring on screen from a stable, fixed position. The camera moves at an intense speed, perfectly reflecting the events and the emotional turmoil that's present in his story.

The film is also decked out in fantastic and apocalyptic images, visually representative of the direction the rest of the directors career would take. Winding staircases leading upward serve as a device used by the characters to distance themselves from the 'void' that they are trying to escape, or in some cases, escape into. Characters are often framed within the frame, placing an emphasis and separation on what is generally a disparate, but relative, image. At the emotional climax of the film the viewer finds Michal running down an endless hallway, encountering room after room of nude, dead representations of himself and his wife. The scene recalls a scene in Jose Benazeraf's Frustration (made the same year as Zulawski's film, but several countries away) as Janine Reynaud's character runs down a hallway encountering room after room of variations on her sister and sister's husband fornicating. The scenes work in the same way in both films, they establish a level of instability and a built up frustration that is emphasized by the endless, inescapable repetition.

The death scenes in the film are also slightly abstracted, portrayed with a level of spurting blood that could match that of a slasher flick from the early 80s. But this is not mere titillation in the same way the overabundance of blood and gore in a slasher movie is, rather, in conjunction with Zulawski's extreme emotions, the extreme blood and gore really emphasizes the weight of the situation. For example, the fantastic element (in this case the over- exaggeration of blood and gore) helps to create a more potent emotional response, which, as Zulawski makes very emotional films, is absolutely coherent within the structure of his films. The blood and gore is not only literal, it's also utterly symbolic of Michal's tense, unsure responses to the world around him after his experiences.

Overall the film is not as developed as some of Zulawski's later works (namely the essential Possession and The Most Important Thing is Love), but it remains a very strong premiere film that displays the characteristics of cinema itself that it's director would go on to develop. It is also one of the most powerful war films that I've ever seen at least, avoiding blanket sentimentality by channeling this presumed emotional response into a complex love story and more universal issues.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Gemidos de Placer is a film Franco made during his Golden Period, being a stage of his career in which he had returned to Spain to make films, and for the first time in his career was more or less free to make the exact films he wanted. This unfortunately often weakened his budget to an amount even less than he was accustomed to, but despite financial short comings it was a period of wildly personal, poetic films for Jess.

The film takes its inspiration from Philosophy in the Boudoir, a short work written by the Marquis de Sade whose themes Franco returned to time and time again throughout his long, still going career. The film takes place in a single night, from dusk to dawn, with only five characters taking part in the entire film. From what I can gather [1], Antonio (Antonio Mayans) brings his friend Julia (Franco's muse, Lina Romay) to his house for a night of debauched sex. Also Antonio's wife Martine has just returned to the house from a mental institution. Eventually Antonio reveals that he intends to drive Martine back to the institution, but throughout a night of sex (lots of sex), and the sexually fueled death of Marta, a sort of maid at the villa, things begin to change. Julia and Martine develop a close relationship, and at the end of the film they take their own actions against Antonio.

The plot is pure Franco, distinctively drawing a parallel between eroticism and death. Virtually nothing happens in the film except for extended sex scenes, yet the film rises above being pure, trite, erotica. To begin with, Franco takes a very Materialist/Structuralist approach to the actual structure of the film. The film is made up of only twenty segments, that is twenty takes without cuts, which if you divide the length of the film (~82 minutes) by twenty, you quickly realize that this means each shot is approximately four minutes in length. The camera lingers on the corporeal acts, using focus to draw attention to inanimate objects in the room, creating an intensely erotic rhythm to the film. The extended shots never get boring; by demonstrating a very careful understanding of composition and depth of field, the viewers eyes never stop moving, taking in the pure beauty of the scenes that Franco has created.

And this film is indeed one of Franco's most utterly beautiful. Even on the apparently shoe-string budget he was on, Franco uses every inch of the space his characters in habit-- the actors and actresses move in such a deliberate way it resembles choreography, moving around the frame which is always built upon the sexual act. Franco has his actors and actresses actually work with their surroundings, the villa itself becoming an all important sixth character in Franco's drama.

In fact, while I compared the technical intent to a simplified Materialist/Structural film earlier, Gemidos de Placer shares more in common with the more poetic strain of the avant-garde, even calling to mind such early canonical greats such as Maya Deren (refer to the seemingly choreographic movement of the characters, the inherent eroticism built out of material objects), but divorced of symbolism outside of anything but the erotic rhythm.

Working greatly with the rhythmic camera and characters themselves, brilliant guitar movement mingles with the action on screen, playing, as usual in a Franco film, an all important role in helping to develop the emotional impact of the film. And don't get me wrong, that is what remains most important here; even through my lack of understanding of the dialogue, the film conveys an extreme sense of emotion, which, I imagine, is why many Franco fanatics claim it as one of his best works.

In fact, what is easily the best scene of the movie comes shortly after the murder of Marta, as Julia desperately writhes and wriggles on a bed while the sun in rising in a window behind her (invoking a key image in Franco's oeuvre). The score of the film swells and the way that the rising sun hits her body as she goes through extreme sexual motions is hypnotic, and possibly the most beautiful thing that I've ever seen in a Franco film. The movement of the characters and camera, the lighting, the music, and the rhythm throughout all of this serves to create such an intense emotional tension that one cannot help but be utterly moved.

However, despite all this brilliance and emotional greatness, the unending sex-scenes do get somewhat tedious, as simulated sex scenes honestly take up more than 3/4s of the films runtime. It may be a totally personal response, as the film definitely never breaks the dreamlike atmosphere that it creates, but my lack of understanding of the dialogue made me occasionally lose interest. I wouldn't consider it a shortcoming of the film itself, as it is necessary in order to maintain the slow rhythm, but occasionally one wishes that something else would happen.

Despite it's flaws, Gemidos de Placer remains a major, key film in the Franco canon, expertly handling the themes of love, sex, and death that Franco has dealt with time and time again in his filmography It also demonstrates that the director who is very often referred to as a hack in terms of techniques actually is very adept at handling all the elements that make film as a medium the amazing thing that it is. If you can get past the fact that the film consists of virtually nothing but sex and focus on what Franco surrounds all of the sex with, I can guarantee a fully rewarding, affecting experience.

[1]The version of the film I saw was in the original Spanish language without any subtitles, so I'm taking this plot from the viewing of the film and an auto-translation of the Italian Wikipedia Page.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


aka Hakujitsumu

Day-Dream is an early example of a pinku film from Japan. The genre, throughout its history, has attained a status as an example of a commercially viable venue for more experimental and counter-culture 'art house' fare under the guise of what in the west would be viewed as mere exploitation. As in any genre of film, there are examples of the genre that stand out as excellent, as well as examples that are mere exploitation without much artistic merit; Day-Dream being an example of the former. In fact, the film shares far more in common with the Japanese New Wave films that were being produced around the same time as it does the lesser examples of the pinku film.

Cheiko is a beautiful woman who arrives at a dentist office waiting room where Kurahashi, a young adult male, is already waiting. The two get called into the 'operating' room, and it becomes apparent that Cheiko is very uncomfortable with dentistry. As Kurahashi is given an injection to put him under so the doctor can remove a cavity, he sees the dentist and the nurse vampirize Cheiko, ripping her top off and biting her neck. The remainder of the film is depicted as Kurahashi's reverie, or day dream, as he dreams/fantasizes about Cheiko in a number of uncomfortable sexual situations, generally related to S/M.

The plot is fairly simple, but the approach taken is what makes the film unique. To begin with, Kurahashi seems to place himself in his day dream as a mere voyeur to the situations which Cheiko endures, as opposed to an active participant. Not only that, but he also views himself as an impotent hero for the first two- thirds of the film, utterly filled with desire for Cheiko but unable to save her from the demonized man who is causing her pain and suffering. The fact that he imagines himself as a voyeur, and as such is constantly depicted actually watching Cheiko's sexual misadventures, marks the film as decisively different than plain exploitation. While a woman is being sexually degraded on screen, Kurahashi's voyeurism calls attention to the fact that we, as viewers are simple voyeurs as well, imposing the question of why, exactly, are we watching this degradation.

This divide immediately causes a sense of the uncomfortable, as like Kurahashi, the viewer is impotent in'saving' the fictional character of Cheiko. We are constantly exposed to her pain and suffering, but we, like Kurahashi, can do absolutely nothing. It's a quite visceral reaction that, as mentioned, distances any sense of mere exploitation.

With the final third of the day dream, Kurahashi seems to rebel against this repression, and in an act that represents a sexual climax, stabs Cheiko to death in the middle of the street, where are large number of civilians pay absolutely no attention. Even with his desperate act, performed more out of reaction than any actual emotions towards Cheiko, he remains impotent, unable to change the world around him.

The film itself is steadily paced and features a very small amount of on-screen sex, especially in comparison to other pinku films. Cheiko is more or less terrified throughout all of her screen time, her terror climaxes in a delightfully surreal series of events that occur in an empty department store in the dead of night.

The music itself is minimal, occasionally erupting in a sort of avant-garde buzzing that helps to emphasize the remarkable psychological states occurring within the characters. As Kurahashi desperately pounds on a glass window where he watches Cheiko be tied up and electrocuted, the score swells to an emotional high as he collapses to the ground, unable to cope with his impotence.

Interestingly enough, while the film itself features very minimal nudity and on screen sex, when producer Joseph Green imported the film for domestic distribution he shot a number of inserts (in the same way Radley Metzger shot additional 'risque' scenes to spice up European films he had imported for Audubon Films) in an abstract, minimal environment featuring a number of fully nude men and women wearing grotesque masks. While the scenes were obviously just shot to up the nudity quotient and help sell the film to American audiences, they serve as an odd sort of representation of the subconscious of various characters, which is even more interesting to think about as the entirety of Kurahashi's day dream itself also serves to represent this. Most of the added scenes are incorporated fairly well, but there are a few instances where the looped soundtrack is obvious and the tension that is apparent in the original film is interrupted.

Outside of a single scene that was shot in color to heighten it's emotional impact (a la the Japanese New Wave films of Nagisa Oshima and much of Koji Wakamatsu's work), the film isn't remarkably impressive from a technical level. The cinematography is stark black and white, carefully balancing the white of skin against the black background of night. But the technicalities are not what's important here, what remains important about this film is the emotional impact of the events, and the aforementioned conflict of interests (sexual titillation versus the implied impotence of being a voyeur) serve to wonderfully heighten the emotional impact.

As a bizarre ending to the film, the camera reveals the bite marks left from the dentist still present on Cheiko's neck, very obviously outside of the context of Kurahashi's day dream; the camera pans up, and Cheiko grins widely before driving off. This ending seems to signify that it was actually Cheiko who was day dreaming, but that undermines the aforementioned emotional impact and significance of the film and instead subverts the ideas of the anonymous woman's response to the sexual degradation.

While the film is very interesting and entirely worth watching, it's not quite as impressive as the pinku films of Koji Wakamatsu, or much later down the line, Hisayasu Sato. Regardless, it's a worthwhile psycho- sexual story that remains very entertaining.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


aka Erotic Twin, aka Due gocce d'acqua

Alberto Cavallone is a virtually unknown director who created a handful of incredibly potent films between 1969 and 1983. His work is (somewhat) notoriously political and nihilistic; he seems to approach his films as conduits for his extreme, somewhat anarchic ideas, and his films are often incredibly difficult and enigmatic. Eventually, according to one of the only English language articles on the director (which is available here), he ended up directing "gritty underground porn." Within the context of what I know of his filmography, La Gemella Erotica is somewhat of an anomaly.

The plot, at least what I can gather of it (it should be noted that the copy of the film I watched was in Italian language without any English subtitles, and I have virtually no comprehension of Italian), revolves around a psychiatrist named Tony and two identical twin sisters, Norma and Mary. Norma and Mary are apparently very different from each other, to the point of conflict. Mary ends up blackmailing Norma, and Tony (who is either married to or in a relationship with Norma) is somewhat involved, as it would seem that Tony is occasionally seeing Mary as a patient in his office. Revelations near the end of the film suggest a far more complex situation, and Mary's lover ends up in a position to kill. There is also a very brief subplot involving another of Tony's patient's who ends up raping and killing a woman before regressing into utter insanity.

The plot description probably sounds fairly thin and convoluted, and while I'm sure part of the reason for this is due to my lack of comprehension of the dialogue, several sources also suggest that Cavallone ending up leaving the film in the middle of production, with notorious hack Luigi Cozzi taking over. However, I cannot verify this, as all of the credits on the film itself seem to indicate that it was Cavallone through and through.

While most of the film plays out like a somewhat generic erotic thriller (the subgenre that became so popular throughout the 80s), elements of the film stand out as being coherent within my understanding of the framework of Cavallone's oeuvre. To begin, Cavallone's films have a very unique editing style that is comparable to nothing that I've seen before in cinema. La Gemella Erotica holds up that editing style for about a third of the movie, traces of it popping up periodically. The style is a sort of subversion of the commercial use of the 'cut,' juxtaposing jarring images next to each other to create a mental and emotionally state that is utterly unstable. It is most evident in the film while the rapist is in Tony's office apparently daydreaming a fantasy of what ends up becoming reality, and later in the film when one of the sister's emotional state begins to fracture.

The camera work is also fairly interesting, combining a subjective hand held camera with a more stable objective shooting style, also occasionally sprinkled with more objective hand held camera work. If this dynamic style of cinematography and editing had been held up throughout the entire film (like it is in other films of Cavallone) that would have made at least the visual rhythms of the film more interesting. As it stands, the movie occasionally ventures into rather flat and drawn out periods which play, as mentioned before, like a generic erotic thriller.

Something very irritating about the film is a large majority of the music. It sounds exactly like you would expect a piece of softcore erotica from 1980 would sound like, and often throughout the film, especially during the ending, it's completely distracting and misplaced. Not all of the music cues are awful and mismatched, but enough that it warrants noting. As it stands, in my position of some ignorance towards the plot, I feel confident in declaring it a very minor film in Cavallone's filmography, and a rather weak film overall. There are elements of the story that, if they had been exploited to further effect, could have produced something greater, but as it ended up it's not something I can heartily recommend.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


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.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


Frustration is what would seem to be Jose Benazeraf's most acclaimed film (I cannot back that up yet as it's only the second film of his that I've had the opportunity to see, however), and it's a bizarre film indeed. Following the same equation as Polanski's Repulsion more or less does (a woman's sister is married/in love and the woman, being alone, goes insane), Frustration is a uniquely euro-cult take on the narrative, and it ends up being a fairly unique experience.

The plot is minimal; Adélaïde (played by Janine Reynaud who by simply putting her hair up actually appears stern and frigid whereas with hair down is more sexual and appealing) lives with her sister, Agnes, and Agnes' husband Michel (played by eurocult regular Michel Lemoine, who also co-wrote the script). While Michel and Agnes appear to be utterly enveloped by each other within their marriage, Adélaïde is thoroughly frustrated by it. She seems to miss the days when she and her sister were closer, and there wasn't an outsider involved in their relationship.

Adélaïde appears to fetishize the relationship, forming some sort of deep sexual attraction to her sister that is made most apparent early on in the film as Benazeraf's camera slowly lingers over Agnes' lips and tongue as she drinks a glass of scotch. Also, whenever Adélaïde hears her sister and Michel making love she cannot focus on anything else, and she escapes into her mind where bizarre sexual fantasies (which easily form the highlights of the film) play out.

In an attempt to win her sister back and in order to cope with her sexual frustration, Adélaïde first attempts to convince her sister that she doesn't belong in a marriage, that it's not compatible with the sister that she grew up knowing, a more strong, independent woman. As that accomplishes nothing, Adélaïde invents a story about Michel having a mistress, relaying the incident to Agnes in utter, lingering detail. Later, when Agnes approaches Adélaïde again about Michel's mistress, Adélaïde denies having ever said such a thing, to which Agnes replies, "You're completely mad."

Eventually Adélaïde cannot tolerate the situation that she is in, throwing her anxieties into the relationship between Agnes and Michel, and she resorts to violence in order to remedy her madness, which leads to an ending that is both powerful and understated, a combination that seems to be one of Benazeraf's strengths.

The film is not overly exploitive, rather, Benazeraf subverts images that are regularly seen in exploitation films and turns them into taut images that Adélaïde projects from her mind, incidents that push Adélaïde further and further away from sanity. In the earliest, strongest example of Adélaïde's madness, she imagines her self desperately running down an extended hallway, opening each and every door to find her sister and Michel in a different sexual position. Adélaïde continues to desperately seek solace from this sexual interaction that she so dearly desires but has no access to as the music continues to build.

In order to emphasize the fractured state of Adélaïde's mind, Benazeraf seems to employ a sort of fractured narrative and aural structure by way of editing. During Adélaïde's "fantasies" the music will crescendo and stop before the action on screen has achieved the same affect, creating a sort of dichotomy that emphasizes a sense of instability. At first the effect seems jarring and unnecessary, but as the film continues the sound design plays more and more into Adélaïde's emotional state and ends up being quite successful. The visual editing is similar, as in the aforementioned scene where Adélaïde lingers on Agnes' lips as she drinks a glass of scotch; during this scene (and other incidents of Adélaïde's 'fantasies,') any sense of time is abandoned. Elements are repeated without any sense of rhythm, creating a discordant visual style that adds to the tension that is rapidly building.

Another interesting factor in the film is how banal everything outside of Adélaïde's fantasies seems. The large, antiquated manor that the threesome reside in is gray and unwelcoming, with nothing particularly 'homey' about it. In fact, the one 'homey' signifier that is ever present in the film is a Christmas tree, which within five minutes of the films' runtime is shown being taken down. The French country side that the manor is located in is also far from romantic in the brief amount of time the characters spend outside of the house. The countryside, at the tail end of winter, is also gray and decaying, with the trees and plants all dead and the weather constantly overcast.

While it's not a perfect film (for instance, the aforementioned fractured stylizations don't work quite as well as they could), it's a very interesting one, and anybody who has an interest in the more psychological side of the euro-cult world (while still carrying enough visually stimulating elements to appease the more visually oriented fans) should do themselves a favor and track the film down.