Monday, May 30, 2016

Fiancée of Dracula (2002)

Both Jean Rollin and Jess Franco are often mentioned in the same breath by both fans and critics of Euro cult cinema and the connection is understandable. While there are numerous differences in the way both approached filmmaking, there are some striking similarities which make the two kindred spirits. Rollin finishing the notorious Zombie Lake (1981) after Franco had abandoned the project not withstanding. A journey through the filmographies of both Rollin and Franco sees the gradual formation of personal cinematic worlds in which both relished retreating into with both returning time and time again to similar ideas, both thematically and visually, locations, obsessions and in several cases casting the same actors. In Rollin’s case, some of the usual suspects would be the constant use of two females as protagonists, cemeteries, the Dieppe beach, childhood nostalgia and of course, vampires. Despite Rollin’s and Franco’s constant returning to similar material never did it seem redundant. No matter how familiar the subject matter seemed both always approached it from a different angle and by the time the new millennium had arrived both men’s biggest influence had essentially become themselves with each film becoming more and more self-referential. Rollin followed up his return to the vampire subgenre, Two Orphan Vampires (1997) with Fiancée of Dracula, one of Rollin’s most surreal works and a film that once again finds Rollin drawing on his past is fresh ways.

While staking out a cemetery, a vampire expert professor and his assistant Thibault witness a dwarf calling upon his vampire lover and soon after accost the dwarf and begin interrogating him about his leader. Both the dwarf and his vampire woman are “parallel” creatures, supernatural beings living in the real world under the control of Count Dracula. Isabelle, a mysterious woman being held prisoner in a convent has been promised to Dracula, a union which the professor and Thibault are attempting to stop, however they’re plan is interrupted when Isabelle escapes the convent with the help of the parallel’s. Things become more complicated when Thibault begins falling for Isabelle as he and the professor face off against more parallel creatures in their desperate attempt to stop Isabelle’s marriage to Dracula and prevent her crossing over into Dracula’s parallel realm.

As is the case with most Rollin films, narrative cohesiveness takes a backseat to the visual poetry on display, however Fiancée of Dracula (La fiancée de Dracula, The Bride of Dracula) is nonetheless one of Rollin’s busiest films in terms of plot. There are several different things going on at once and each direction taken by the story only serves to make the film all the more bewildering and nonsensical with Rollin’s random stream of consciousness storytelling ultimately having the film cast the same beguiling spell Dracula has put Isabelle under on its audience. Again, the film see’s Rollin calling upon his past films for inspiration yet never once does the film seem pastiche as all the visual references take on a different context. The most recognizable visual motif would be the use of the vampire appearing from inside a grandfather clock ala The Shiver of the Vampires (1971), however in this film Dracula uses the clock as a portal of sorts transporting himself to several different areas via the clock and its use during the films finale on Rollin’s favorite beach recalls the climax of The Nude Vampire (1970). The film also sees Rollin expanding upon what he began with Two Orphan Vampires by adding other otherworldly creatures in the mix such as witches, an ogress and Brigitte Lahaie in the role a she-wolf. Rollin also incorporates a group of mad nuns who’s antics inject a healthy dose of absurd comedy into the film which only adds to its already off-center tone.

Along with all the visual cues, Rollin also harkens back to his debut feature film The Rape of the Vampire (1968) via the one of the lines of dialogue that ended that film when Isabelle recites “I am the small boy who went to look for your scarf by the sea… Dear, dear oh dear Cordelia!” This also doubles as a reference to Gaston Leroux and Phantom of the Opera. Leroux was clearly a major influence on the film. One particular line of dialogue repeated throughout the film and in some ways could be considered the films mantra, “The presbytery has lost none of its charms nor the garden its colors” is a line from Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room and Leroux’s Queen of the Sabbath is seen when Isabelle is introduced. Exactly what it all means is left open to interpretation but the way in which Rollin incorporates these literary influences within the engagement of Dracula and Isabelle give way to another Rollin trademark, the idea of doomed romanticism. Rollin would only make two more films before his passing, the deeply personal and even more self-referential La nuit des horloges (2007) and Le masque de la Méduse (2010). Despite all the health issues that may have held him back, a film like Fiancée of Dracula is proof positive that Rollin was still more than capable of delivering a surrealist masterpiece.

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