17 June, 2014

L'IMMORTELLE (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1983) Kino Lorber Blu-ray

This film has numerous similarities to Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS: the same main location (Istanbul), similar characters and plot (a confused man pursues a dead woman) and conclusion. The differences are that Franco's film is in color, infused with Jazz and that Robbe-Grillet's film has absolutely no exploitation elements (nudity, violence) and is his only film which doesn't contain sadomasochistic elements.

The minimalist vs the psychedelic treatment of similar themes, characters, plots and locales...

 Photo: L'IMMORTELLE (Alain Robbe-Grillet, KINO CLASSICS Blu-ray) ... Messenger of Death.
Hell hound or Messenger of Death....

Francoise Brion and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze meet in Istanbul's cemetery of the living dead in Alain Robbe-Grillet's L'IMMORTELLE.

N (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) a French University lecturer, arrives to fulfill his appointment in Istanbul but is both confused and fascinated by the exotic environment and mythology of the Turkish city. He meets the beautiful, remote L (Francoise Brion), seemingly by chance, and a mysterious man, M,  with two imposing hounds who seems to hover over her actions. He invites her to a reception at his apartment, and later they embark on several visits to such local attractions as the Grand Mosque and bazaar. Then L disappears from his life as suddenly as she appeared. Searching for her in the ancient city N becomes obsessed with her image and elusive presence. Finally locating her in the crowded streets one night they attempt to drive out of the city only to become involved in a fatal accident when one of M's dogs suddenly appears in the center of the road. L is pronounced dead. But is she? N embarks on another desultory search and final appointment in his personal Samarra.

This aforementioned similarities to Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS: are probably not accidental. Robbe-Grillet is mentioned in word association game in NECROMONICON (1967), albeit in the German language, not the English language dubbing and Franco seems as totally immersed in the closed universe of S&M as ARG, both are European mavericks whom critics and audiences tend to love or hate with equal passion. 

Beside being chaste in terms of sex and violence, but not eroticism or anxiety, there's absolutely no "acting" or attempt at realistic movements or any movement at all by the actors in L'IMMORTELLE, they're mostly frozen in space, obviously at the insistence of the director. Totally alienating at each and every moment.With no zoom shots, conventional plot continuity, emotive acting, executed with rigid camera movements, a disjunctive editing style, avoidance of pretty compositions, but not picture postcard views of the city, which Robbe-Grillet favored over documentary realism. "Pierre Loti meets A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS." Nonetheless, the film does nothing to dress up the crumbling exteriors such as the ancients ramparts which surround the city and are seen in the opening and closing shots taken from a car on the highway. Automobiles, accidents, lights, mirrors, secret agent style suits and sunglasses play a large part in the ambiance of a film shot in the same year and location as Terence Young's 1963 Bond FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. But L'IMMORTELLE is the anti-Bond Eurospy film, the anti-Hollywood Love Story, a love story without love, the anti-Art Art film.

All of this insured the film's financial and critical failure, along with the writer-director's inexperience in such basic matters as communication with crew and actors, following continuity within and between scenes, allowing for improvisation and creative "accidents", all exacerbated by a restive crew and an actual revolution which occurred in Turkey while the film was shooting, putting this government sanctioned production in a distinctly uncomfortable position. All of this and more is outlined in humorous fashion by the late writer-director in a 32 m interview which, in this case, is probably best watched Before the feature presentation.

Given the technical/artistic flaws of this first film of a literary star, the Kino Classics HD transfer from original 35mm elements is as gorgeous as one can expect from a film made with blocked funds, during a revolution, with an increasingly uncooperative crew and clueless actors. It's also the anti-LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD from the author of that classic film. Same story, plot but totally different tone and style Robbe-Grillet was no Alain Resnais and seems less interested in "style" than in playing with structure while observing surfaces. This is a film completely obsessed with the surfaces of things, people, locations. There is no psychology, back story or message. What you see is what you get. Or maybe don't get. But that's OK. This is a film by the King of the Nouveau Roman. Imagine a Bond film by Robert Bresson or Carl Dreyer and you have a handle on it. Maddening, circular, obtuse and haunting, it's unlike any other film of Robbe-Grillet and any other film by anyone. The Georges Delerue score is laced with a particularly enchanting traditional Turkish song which provides a perfect audio environment for this exotic cocktail.

A 2014 promo short and trailers for three other Kino Classic Robbe-Grillet Blu-ray presentations are included.

Written and Directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Photography by Maurice Barry
Music by Georges Delerue

(C) Robert Monell, 2013

1 comment:

Tom Clark said...

I've never made the connection between L'Immortelle and Venus in Furs but you're spot on!

I absolutely LOVE L'Immortelle. I love the world of it, how the version of Istanbul seen in the films seems to exist in another dimension of sorts. Like Franco, ARG has the ability to lull you into this MOOD with such ease. Of course Francoise Brion's presence doesn't hurt either!

What's also fascinating is being able to pick out all the things ARG would go on to perfect in films like La belle captive and Gradiva. Defiantly an important film and now that its widely available more people should become acquainted with it.