Dir. Jean Rollin
After falling over my words with the first Jean Rollin film to be covered, The Shiver of the Vampires (1971), I have a closer grip of why I like the director's work. It required asking why I've been drawn to the films I've been interested in, the sort of thing that would be a question for the whole blog. Feeling that I am too complacent a person, films that knock me briefly out of this complacency attract my attention. Political and serious message films fail because they are so easily absorbed into complacent mindsets. A work, not just cinema, even if it's a joke or tacky which causes my ears to prick up, or my eyes to widen, or pushes me into a brief state of confusion or surprise, trying to grip something which is unconventional and refreshing, is what has affected me the most. And it's been far more relevant to my real life than most educational or critically important documents because the irrational or strangeness forces one immediately to look at things in reality in a new light. Jean Rollin still isn't that popular, only a few in paracinema in his fan base compared to other directors, not given his due completely yet. He made erotic horror movies for the most part, with impoverished budgets and on the fly. He was more concerned in The Nude Vampire in mood and an intentionally vague narrative. But watching a film like this, you cast your eyes to conventional cinema, notice most of it is tedious in comparison to what curious things happen or take place in his films, even when they're trying to have serious messages, and realise in my case that Rollin, if a mere director of softcore lesbian vampire films, was nonetheless able to puncture one's view of how a film could be put together in a way far more entertaining, because he is completely unpredictable in his plotting, mixing genre together, and more rewarding because you aren't a passive viewer to his films, always reacting if through titillation, displacement by his lengthy shot times or thrown in a loop by the content of the films.
A business organisation believe they've acquired a female vampire (Caroline Cartier), the son of the company head (Olivier Martin) encountering her during her attempt to escape and doing what he can to try and rescue her. Her own kind make themselves known to help him, planning their own rescue mission while having interest in his and her being together. This plot outline is a mere minimalist interpretation, without spoilers, and doesn't show what tangents take place that may stump some, finding it all sluggish and fickle, beautiful and utterly enjoyable for me. Okay, let's be honest, as much of the joy with Rollin for me is the cultish nature of his work. The unpredictability. The unique take of the genre tropes. And the thing to not hide from the most, the eroticism, though without wanting to sound crass unless there's honesty to it, it's impossible not to feel desire for a person whose beautiful onscreen, in this case as a heterosexual man for beautiful women, regardless if they're naked or not. As with the other Rollin films I've seen, I don't fear having to justify this because the sexuality never feels like you're gazing at the actresses as mere meat, two dimensional figures for male viewers, the characters having active participation to the content and of great importance even if this is one of the more male driven films of Rollin's I've seen.
With Rollin, both surrealism is an active force in his work, not merely coincidental, and his participation in a way of French cinema to make genre decorative and fanciful even when deathly serious is obvious. The first images, in a lab with men in red hoods and a woman with a blue bag over her head, caused me to think Rollin had suddenly turned into George Franju for a film. Turns out that wasn't far enough to go in terms of genre! From there you get men in startling animal masks and a suicide cult. Twins (Cathy and Pony Tricot) with ridiculous clothes, consisting of tiny blinds of discs barely covering their bare torsos, designed for their boss to play with erotically, along with Velcro skirts, during telephone conversations. Vampires welding burning torches for once, not the usual way around, storming people hiding in the library of a mansion in the countryside, and a plot twist that pushes the film into metaphysical sci-fi by way of Rollin's obsession with beaches. His style is disarming for those expecting the tropes he is using here - vampires, crime thrillers, even the Parisian crime stories of a Louis Feuillade - to be depicted as they are usually, his slow matter-of-fact nature, with mostly monotone acting, (the Robert Bresson comparison isn't that absurd as it may sound to most people), disarming the conventions and alienating those who want what is usually wanted in these films. But it's been inherent in French cinema, including Louis Feuillade for that matter, to both have mystery in their takes on genre and idiosyncratic in how the material around direct plot points are expanded upon and made of the most interest.
In Rollin's case, the plot, continually talked of in dialogue, is concentrating on the material around it or makes the plot expedition part of the tangents by making it more of a texture than something of the more importance. Put it like this, in a one example of this which pretty much sums up Rollin's deliberate style, the moment where the protagonist's friend is brought into the events, over a phone call, is usually a minute in most films. Here, the concern before is of the camera being seduced by the friend's lover, a voluptuous black woman who is completely naked, the camera in extreme close-up on body parts, not directly and pornographically, but glancing at her as a goddess and a moving statue, and slightly further back shots to take in her languid expressions to it. Purely titillation on the surface, but as she gazes at the camera out at the audience, playful as she cups herself, pulling us in with her own intent, and wanting to seduce the friend, Rollin, having this play out for a few good minutes before a phone call interrupts the pair being able to sleep together finally, the protagonist needing his friend's help, is as concerned with mood of a sensual moment and everything else surrounding plot events as well as when the phone call takes place. Moments, not just the erotic ones, play out longer than they usually do even in the Italian genre films, basking in the inconsequential moments for other filmmakers. The plot is a game which is to be taken seriously but the participants are as much allowed to rest in the middle of important events, the obvious exception being when guns are shot or someone is stabbed, but immediately after, as in an opening sequence, a pause can take place, a lengthy, hesitant one, before a specific person realises they need to escape.
This plays out in the whole of The Nude Vampire, the contemporary setting of urban areas, office buildings, and lavish homes and mansions against the gothic and Parisian aesthetics creating a peculiar contrast. Everything feels new and oddly attractive because of it, going along knowing that it's a flush of motifs in a continuous dream, like Rollin's films are. Befittingly like the Italian-US mindbender The Visitor (1979) - [reviewed here] - found, the importance of corridors and rooms, exterior urban streets and office buildings, as characters is immensely useful to add to the atmosphere of a film, always with an anticipation for a tuned-in viewer of a character stumbling onto a secret behind a door or a potential threat. As Rollin viewed women as even more of interest and of more importance in his films, though male characters as here are treated with importance too, anyone can have a gun pointed on another person, anyone can suddenly appear, of any gender, and be a being of importance and centre of a scene's importance. This means, as well there being no crass gender archetypes to get in the way, that things are much more interesting in Rollin's films for me because he's yet to get predictable, and that's far more a good night's entertainment as well as art because, even when repeating motifs, he is catching me off-guard and bringing out something exciting or an image immensely surreal in each new scene. Here, by the ending, he stumped me in taking his usual vampire film and turning the vampire plot, in his second ever feature film, on its head, the metaphysical science fiction, suddenly introduced with an amusing inclusion rather than pointlessly, undermining the vampire part of the film's title! The greater aspect of this is, barring the exceptions in his filmography, he rifted on the same types of horror film in all I've seen but so far has always made details different in each. The result that even in repetition, it never feels like he is becoming redundant.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium
Out of the two Rollin films so far covered on the blog in general, The Nude Vampire is the more "abstract". While The Shiver of the Vampires is closer to Rollin's conventional style - minimalistic in plot - it yet has more of a "mainstream" tone, a gothic vampire film plot in a Rollin movie. This by having a more wildly detailed story which shifts gears makes it more unpredictable. It's avant garde score by Yvon Serault, from noise to melodic pieces, is even more unpredictable than the moody prog rock of the other film. This feels a more freewheeling work which precariously juggles, even throws in, content abruptly, improvised, as it goes along that could've collapsed the whole film, but with an ending that unravels how the film starts, it stands out more. The more contemporary urban locations barring the last quarter in the mansion, while The Shiver of the Vampires was very gothic, adds to the abstract nature, horror twisted through then-modern day reality, to the point it becomes unconventional again. The openly mysterious and surreal ending, nearing the ballpark of David Lynch of a distance travelled into a new dimension between space, even with a thick set of curtains to go through guarded by a pleasant elderly man and women, is much more "quirky" and unpredictable than that of the other film, still going against expectations but still kept in genre traditions.
A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
Obviously. The question instead is what'll happen as I connect his filmography together. Will any film feel too ordinary within it? Will new pleasures be found in the films I've already seen reflected through those I've just watched? And as for this film in particular? I found it immensely enjoyable.