Monday, September 4, 2017
Playing With Fire (1975)
Wealthy banker Georges de Saxe receives a letter informing him that his daughter Carolina (Anicée Alvina) has been kidnapped along with instructions to deliver a large payment in exchange for Carolina's safe return. The problem is Carolina hasn’t been kidnapped, she’s safe at home. Fearing that the letter might be a trial run for an actual kidnapping, Georges demands Carolina go into hiding just as a precautionary measure. With the help of Franz (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a detective of sorts, Carolina is placed in a brothel where wealthy clients indulge in sadomasochistic fantasies while Georges, despite knowing full-well that Carolina is safe, agrees to go forward with delivering the ransom to a shady network of human traffickers, making an already strange scenario all the more bizarre.
Fusing the narrative deconstruction techniques of Trans-Europ-Express with the sadosurrealistic fantasy worlds of Eden and After (1970) and Successive Slidings of Pleasure, Playing with Fire (Le jeu avec le feu), as the title suggests, finds Robbe-Grillet at his most playful, with a good portion of the film feeling like Robbe-Grillet is playing a deliberate joke on both his characters and the audience. While not as explicit as Trans-Europ-Express in terms of having the film play out on the spot with characters writing out the film as it progresses, that idea is certainly hinted at throughout Playing With Fire, with multiple instances of characters breaking the fourth wall and addressing the camera as well as numerous references to a “script”. At one point Robbe-Grillet even pokes a little fun at himself by having Trintignant quip “I didn’t understand the script all, but that’s that.” Its an understandable mindset as very little makes sense in Robbe-Grillet’s perverse playground, be it a kidnapping that never happened or perhaps may happen in the future, characters shifting allegiances or a house of pleasure where the waking and dream world collide, yet the strength of the film lies in its playfulness, where its fun to both try and put the pieces of the puzzle together while simultaneously getting lost in the absurdity of it all. Of course its difficult to not get lost in the dream world Robbe-Grillet creates on the inside of Carolina’s safe house, who’s various rooms of pleasure feature some of Robbe-Grillet’s most striking sadoerotic tableaux.
Playing Wire Fire was the second Robbe-Grillet film to feature Anicée Alvina following Alvina’s now iconic starring role in Successive Slidings of Pleasure. Robbe-Grillet always had nothing but praise for Alvina, stating how well she took direction, specifically singling out the scene in Successive Slidings of Pleasure where Alvina recreates a Yves Klein Anthropométries, a scene which for timing reasons had to be done in one single take which was achieved with ease thanks to Alvina. Robbe-Grillet even attributed the success of Successive Slidings of Pleasure to her. A fascinating character herself, Robbe-Grillet remarked that Alvina would only read comic books and humorously recalled an instance where her mother hoped that the film wouldn’t offend her modesty, or what little she had. Alvina also had a career as a singer and for a time fronted the quirky French New Wave/post-punk band Ici Paris. Alvina sadly died in 2006 of lung cancer, however her daughter Azadée now fronts Ici Paris. While the role of Carolina is considerably less mysterious than that of Alvina’s unnamed sorceress in Successive Slidings of Pleasure, Alvina still brings a doe-eyed innocence to Carolina which goes well with Alvina’s inhibited mischievousness. In terms of writing as well as visually speaking, Playing With Fire is classic Robbe-Grillet and a must see and as inaccessible at it may seem from a distance, wouldn’t be a bad place to start for the uninitiated.