01 December, 2008


Alain Robbe-Grillet directs Anicee Alvina on the set of GLISSEMENTS PROGESSIFS DU PLAISIR

Anicee Alvina (1953-2006) as "Subject A" in GLISSEMENTS PROGESSIFS DU PLAISIR

Mannequin in bondage...

Given that I first saw this film in 1975 at a famous New York City Arthouse cinema with Alain Robbe Grillet in attendance [he was a visiting professor at NYU at the time] to answer questions after the showing, seeing it again reminds me just how much of a cultural object of that era it remains. The film was new but obscure in the US and would have legal problems in Europe as well as being condemned by the Vatican [I guess Robbe-Grillet would join Jess Franco and Bunuel on the Vatican's list as one of the filmmakers most dangerous to Catholics] and ended up in the Italian courts. According to the Robbe-Grillet chapter in IMMORAL TALES: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984, it would, like its transgressive heroine, be subject to burning. I don't know if it was actually burned but there are repeated images of the figure of Subject A [the late Anicee Alvina] burning. SLOW SLIDINGS INTO PLEASURE, an English language translation of the title, certainly suggests a mid 1970's porno item.

Robbe Grillet was inspired by Jules Michelet's LA SORCIERE, as he emphasizes in a filmed interview with Francois Jost which follows the feature on my video copy.* As he discusses the Michelet book and his film we see images from GLISSEMENTS... of the nude protagonist on a beach with flames superimposed over her. If one looks closely it's not meant to be a real burning, but a figurative one. But nothing is meant to be "real" in Robbe-Grillet's serial construct, everything is false, every element is isolated at an absolute zero. It's a feminist film which is also politically incorrect. And the fact that the focus in on a young woman who is accused of transgression by religious and secular authorities, and that most of the dialogue drifts into the realm of interrogation, strongly evokes Sade as a structuring absence. The film continuously uses women's bodies as signs and erotic objects while coolly examining just how popular culture defines women's sexuality by conventional norms and demands.

I haven't read the Michelet book but the film is in the experimental-erotic modality of a number of Jess Franco films, especially NECORNOMICON, VENUS IN FURS, VAMPYROS LESBOS, in its iconography and presentation of the fantasy-woman as a generator of transgression. The character has no name so I call her subject A. In the film's opening shot the camera approaches her indirectly, cautiously, inexorably, as if she were a subject for objective examination. But she also has something of the stillness and plasticity of a mannequin. Mannequins play a key role in this film, often interchanging roles with actual characters, as they do in Franco's NECRONOMICON and VAMPYROS LESBOS.

Subject A is interrogated in a seaside dungeon run by nuns after her roommate Nora (Olga Georges Picot) is found stabbed to death with scissors after A has played erotic body painting games with her. The "murder" may or may not be "real" but is obsessively investigated by a police detective who arrives on the scene almost immediately, a magistrate, a priest and a lawyer, respectively played by Jean Louis Trintignant, Michel Lonsdale, Jean Martin and Olga Georges Picot (in a double [?] role). A's burning image, a metal bed-frame with a mannequin tied to it on the seashore, a woman's blue shoe, a bottle shattering, eggs mixing with red fluids, A standing nude under severed bars [an image which evokes a Surrealist canvas], faces peering through bars, prison body painting with bright red pigment, a red kneeler flanked by candles, are the key images. Dogs barking, moans, whips striking, breaking glass, sirens, an atonal use of music and sound. Sound often in opposition to the images. The montages of images and sound by Bob Wade and Michel Fano are as complex and abstract as anything in the 70's films of Godard, who was dealing with the political rather than erotic transgression.

Unlike Jess Franco who always begins with wanting to make a work of popular entertainment, Robbe Grillet operates more like a novelist or painter in his filmmaking process, wanting to make certain aesthetic and conceptual explorations which are rigorously controlled and executed. The irony was that glissements... became a financial success as much as it was critically misunderstood or condemned. In a way, it can be read as a Women In Prison film or a nunsploitation item as well. A cine-roman exists, which I have not read.

Seduction, transgression, surrealism, repetition. Is it Art, Pornography, or both?

*I feel grateful to have had the chance to see it in a pristine 35mm print with the auteur present. Now, if only there could be a HD R1 DVD presentation with English subtitles.

These are some thoughts which came to mind after a recent viewing of GLISSEMENTS PROGESSIFS DU PLAISIR.

(C) Robert Monell, 2008


Kaya Özkaracalar said...

Around the same time he filmed GLISSEMENTS, R-G also wrote a prose titled LA BELLA CAPTIVE (published in 1975, utilizing Magritte paintings as illustrations). More than the 1980s movie with the same title, this books shares a lot in common with GLISSEMENTS. For example, the scene of a mannequin tied up to a bed on the beach is also described in LA BELLA CAPTIVE (the book).
Also note that some footage from GLISSEMENTS turn up in R-G's last (and excellent) movie GODIVA.
I see R-G as one of the greatest-ever artists who worked in the film medium. Unfortunately, I'd been told by people who'd interviewed him that he was somewhat snobbish as well.
Have you watched L'IMMORTALE? As far as I know, Jess has never spoken of it, but VENUS IN FURS is clearly a derivative of that movie.
Anyway, you wish for a "HD R1" DVD of GLISSEMENTS. well, a non-HD dvd from any region would do if it only has eng. subs. Is this movie available anywhere with eng. subs?

Robert Monell said...

Yes, I've read the book and it is quite different from the movie. It stands by itself. When I met ARG I had a chance to chat and ask a few questions, he seemed quite charming, humorous and unpretentious.

I agree that he's a great film artist, but many critics underrate his films or see them as inferior to his books.

GRADIVA or whatever the title was really critically rejected in France but I'm anxious to see it. I haven't seen any Eng subbed print of GLISSEMENTS...

I have reviewed L'IMMORTELLE here on the blog. Just type the title in the search engine and I agree that VENUS obviously owes a debt in terms of basic plot, characters, locations and even specific images. VIF is kind of a pop version of the ARG.