Art exists to trouble - Alain Robbe-Grillet
A few months ago, some French guy from London was happy to go on and on – on FB – about how Alain Robbe-Grillet films were... crap and had no narrative... I had heard of Alain’s films but never had the privilege to watch them! I spent my childhood in Africa, two years in Paris and then London (with a glimpse in Latin America). His films were probably not screened while I was in Paris...
A few weeks ago, BFI sent me an email “A collection of films made by French writer and filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet during the 1960s and early 1970s, previously unavailable in the UK, will be released by the BFI this month in a 3-disc Blu-ray box set and a 5-disc DVD box set. Alain Robbe-Grillet Six Films 1963-1974 comes out on 30 June”. The next minute, I had my fangs into BFI press officer’s neck and said “yes please” courteously (any press officer dealing with me should be entitled to a pay-rise).
Over 500 minutes of moving images to watch + four times 30 minutes of interview between mighty journalist Frederic Taddei and Alain Robbe-Grillet + booklet.
David Taylor essay on the booklet explains very well Alain’s life, him as a writer and as a film maker. This is where I’ll start. In 1961, Robbe-Grillet got involved in film making with Alain Resnais’s Last Year in Marienbad. At 40, Alain shot his first film The Immortal One (L’immortelle, 1963). He admits in the interview with Taddei his relationship with his expert crew was highly tense and he treated his actors as wooden actors. The film was not a success in any ways.
The Immortal One was then my first approach to Alain Robbe-Grillet films. The film was shot in Turkey as someone had a huge amount of money in a Turkish bank and the money could not leave Turkey... so it had to be spent on site – Monsieur Robbe-Grillet is a delight to listen to when he tells his crunchy tales. Aesthetically, the film is an absolute gem. The curves and straight lines of architectures fused with stylish dresses “catwalking” through the enigmatic opus. Driving through the mesmerising landscapes, a man N arrives at a port and asked “Excuse me. Is it far to Beykoz?” the stylish woman answers and will come on and off the screen. About narration, Robbe-Grillet says “When you abandon the entire notion of narration, of telling a story that someone is going to narrate, then the question immediately arises as to the origin of the story. What is the place, the point, from which this story is produced?”.
The man N asks at the end “Excuse me. Is it far to Beykoz?” at the same spot of the port... this time another lady answers.
With Robbe-Grillet films, there is a recurring sense of dislocation and un-associated events reflecting on un-straight mirrors, investigation, religion, justice, broken bottles, scissors, sexual games... with a bemused tone. I have had a strong sensation when watching the BFI box of Alain Robbe-Grillet Six Films 1963-1974 that the “lack” of narrative is due to the dissociation/multiple personalities that the main character “suffers”. As if all stories are told from the perspective of an individual jumping from one personality to another becoming themselves either imaginary people or dealing with imaginary friends, from one place to another without disturbing the live painting I am watching.
Courtesy of BFI
Jean-Louis Trintignant & Marie-France Pisier
For his second film, Alain Robbe-Grillet shot in Antwerp, Belgium because money was available there (see interview with Taddei). Trans-Europ-Express (1967) welcomes on board a film director (Alain Robbe-Grillet), an assistant (Catherine Robbe-Grillet, his wife from 1957 to 2008) and a producer (Paul Louyet). Elias (Jean-Louis Trintignant, I repeat Jean-Louis Trintignant) jumps on board... or does he?
This is Robbe-Grillet most direct crime thriller film, as he somehow fetishes the genre, and yet distinguishes himself from the genre. There are indeed inspectors wearing cream raincoats, but as Alain states all along the DVD interviews, his films don’t resolve anything at the end. When most crime thrillers, at the time at least, explain all riddles in details, he says that in crimes not all clues can be explained... About his own films, Robbe-Grillet says he is happy to explain, but only what he wants to explain... Elias carries a suitcase of cocaine and we follow his journey to his obsession with SM, his meetings with gangsters, spies, a prostitute (Marie-France Pisier) while we keep coming back to the carriage where the three film makers change their script narrative, or perhaps it is Jean Louis Trintignant who controls the film?
The Man Who Lies (1968) was shot in Czechoslovakia... (some money there and around the Prague Spring) stars Alain’s fetish actor Jean-Louis Trintignant as a man escaping the Nazi. He arrives in a village where he introduces himself as Jean Robin or Boris Varissa (both names are recurring in Alain’s fims) or The Ukrainian. The character keeps contradicting his facts and when confronting to his lies, he simply seduces his court à la Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless. The Man Who Lies could be compared to some of the Czech New Wave cinema, more specifically Jaromil Jireš, but Red Psalm also comes to mind from Hungarian Miklós Jancsó.
End of Part I – Part II soon, and hopefully with some words from Catherine Robbe-Grillet
The six films are:
The Immortal One (L’Immortelle) (1963)
The Man Who Lies (L’Homme qui ment) (1968)
Eden and After (L’Eden et après) (1970)
N. Took the Dice (N. a pris les dés…) (1971)
Successive Slidings of Pleasure (Glissements progressifs du plaisir) (1974)
All six films presented in High Definition on Blu-ray, and digitally remastered in High Definition on DVD - Newly filmed introductions by Catherine Robbe-Grillet (2013) - Filmed interviews with Alain Robbe-Grillet by critic Frederic Taddei (2007) [one year before Alain’s death] - New and exclusive full-length audio commentaries for each film by Tim Lucas - Original theatrical trailers - Illustrated booklet with a new essay by David Taylor, full film credits and on-set photographs
Blu-ray product details
RRP: £59.99 / cat. no. BFIB1188 / Cert 18
France, Italy, Turkey, Czechoslovakia / 1963-1974 / black and white, and colour / French language, with optional English subtitles / 577 mins / Original aspect ratio 1.33:1 and 1.66:1 / BD50 x 3 / 1080p / PCM mono audio (48k/24-bit)
DVD product details
RRP: £49.99 / cat. no. BFIV2000 / Cert 18
France, Italy, Turkey, Czechoslovakia / 1963-1974 / black and white, and colour / French language, with optional English subtitles / 554 mins / Original aspect ratio 1.33:1 and 1.66:1 (16x9 anamorphic) / DVD9 x 5 / Dolby Digital mono audio (192 kbps)
BFI releases are available from all good DVD retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop at BFI Southbank, London Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop
Follow Twit = https://twitter.com/bbldnbtl
More pix on - Follow FB = https://www.facebook.com/babylondon.orbital