Monday, August 11, 2014

Gradiva (2006)

It was a long time coming, but as of June 2014 the majority of the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet, the brilliant novelist turned filmmaker are finally available on DVD in English friendly restored versions the exceptions being Playing With Fire (1975) and 1995’s The Blue Villa (Un bruit qui rend fou). As is all to often the frustrating case when it comes to many of the films by the masters of European cult cinema, for the longest time fans had make due with bootleg copies of Robbe-Grillet’s films until Kino/Redemption and BFI (in the form of a box set) released L'Immortelle (1963), Trans-Europ-Express (1967), The Man Who Lies (1968), Eden and After (1970), Successive Slidings of Pleasure (1974) and N. Takes the Dice, an alternate cut of Eden and After. Originally it was announced that Mondo Macabro was going to be the company to release those six films until the films eventually went to Redemption. Mondo Macabro however were one of the first in line when in 2009, one year after Robbe-Grillet’s passing they released his final film Gradiva making them the second company to release a Robbe-Grillet film on DVD, the first being Koch Lorber with La belle captive (1983). Robbe-Grillet may have only directed nine films, but those nine films are some of the most unique and thought provoking works in all of cult cinema and Gradiva is certainly no exception.

While studying the works of Eugène Delacroix in Morocco, art historian John Locke receives a package of slides featuring never before seen sketches done by Delacroix all featuring the same woman. Locke is determined to uncover the history behind the sketches and who the woman is and not long after he beings to have visions of the woman in the sketches wandering about the medina. Locke soon becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of the woman and her connection to Delacroix, and despite the constant warnings of his servant Belkis, Locke keeps searching which leads him into a mysterious and dangerous fantasy world of sadomasochism, doppelgangers and murder.

Whether or not Robbe-Grillet intended Gradiva (C'est Gradiva qui vous appelle, “It's Gradiva That is Calling You") to be his cinematic swan song it nonetheless made for a very fitting farewell featuring all the trademarks that his previous films employed as well as references to his past films even featuring some spliced in footage from Eden and After and Successive Slidings of Pleasure. Comparisons have been made to Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) which are fitting considering the films obsessive theme, although at the same time Gradiva takes places in a singular universe that is quintessentially Robbe-Grillet and if there were any other films to compare it too, the two most apt would be Robbe-Grillet’s own L’Immortelle and La belle captive. To those uninitiated with Robbe-Grillet’s style or those who have a low tolerance for fragmented “narratives” the film has the potential to frustrate in that in pure Robbe-Grillet fashion time and space seem to be alien concepts in this dream world. Fantasy sequences bleed into reality and back again so much so that the two become one and the same featuring characters, oftentimes portrayed by the same actor, with multiple identities. Its a truly bewildering and intoxicating experience, one that becomes even more so when considering the delirious bursts of S&M, exotic Moroccan locations (much like he did with Istanbul in L’Immortelle, Robbe-Grillet essentially makes the medina its own character) and fantastic interior sets, including some extravagantly decorated hotel rooms which serve as the perfect backdrop for some of the films more hallucinatory moments.

Again, Mondo Macabro essentially beat everyone to the punch when it came to Robbe-Grillet with their release of Gradvia. Aside from looking amazing the DVD contained a great interview with Robbe-Grillet who discussed a variety of topics including his cinematic influences, the Marquis de Sade, the different ways he approached literature and film, his distaste for realism in film and perhaps most intriguing, his thoughts on eroticism. This leads to some particularly interesting anecdotes where Robbe-Grillet recounts his observations on how certain members of the audiences in French cinemas reacted to the erotic content of Trans-Europ-Express which also segues  into a hilarious story of how Successive Slidings of Pleasure sold more tickets in one Paris theatre than the theatre had seats. When one person would walk out of the film whoever was manning the box office would sell a ticket for recently vacated seat until eventually there would be two lines of people, one going out the exit and the other going in. Aside from Robbe-Grillet’s entertaining banter, the interview is an invaluable insight into one of the most brilliant minds in both literature and film. It can be somewhat difficult to suggest just where to begin with Robbe-Grillet due to the potentially alienating nature of his films, but for those interested or for fans who’ve yet to get to it, Gradiva is unquestionably essential. One final fever dream from a master transgressor.

No comments:

Post a Comment