07 June, 2017

N. TOOK THE DICE (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1971)



I recently streamed this intriguing 1971 feature by novelist-filmmaker-theorist Alain Robbe-Grillet on the Fandor Amazon channel. It was well worth it since the film is an experimental restructuring of his 1971 L'EDEN ET APRES, which was also filmed in Bratislava and Tunisia with the same cast and a similar plot. But plot is not as important as image and soundtrack in ARG's universe, where character and story are one or two dimensional pulp devices. All of his films have a pulp fiction quality which is very upfront and intentional. 

ARG was a contemporary and kindred spirit to Jess Franco. Both were immersed in the literature, imagery and philosophy of the Marquis de Sade. Franco actually adapted several of his books, including JUSTINE, JULIETTE (unfinished), PHILOSOPHY IN THE BOUDOIR and EUGENIE DE SADE, to name a few. ARG's films are awash in Sadean imagery, in which sadomasochism is visualized and discussed throughout. 

Robbe-Grillet's name is mentioned during the word game in SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON (1967) and Franco's VENUS IN FURS is a virtual remake of ARG's debut feature, L'IMMORTELLE (1963). Both films feature a search for an elusive women who represents and delivers death to the man who finds her. N. TOOK THE DICE and its template both feature a woman (Catherine Jourdain LE SAMOURAI) who ends up imprisoned in a Tunisian torture complex, where women are kept in hanging cages by pirates with clandestine motives. Misogynist? Maybe. Is it Art? It depends on personal definitions. What is art to one person, may be mere pornography to others. Where does eroticism end and pornography begin?

 The key question is: can eroticism be a subject and technique in Art? I think most would answer yes to that.   Robbe-Grillet never worked in the hardcore sex mode, as did Jess Franco, but he did create a series of erotic conundrums in his books and films which transgress common definitions of taste and are pornographic to some. His film SLOW SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE (1974) actually was the subject of criminal litigation in Italy and was banned there. 

ARG is mainly interested in presenting films and books as experiments in anti/non/multi linear-narrative and alternate literary/film forms. Conventional representation is critiqued, ridiculed and turned inside-out.  Eroticism is often a portal to a dangerous type of personal/political freedom, although his films don't deal with specific political matters, as do those of Jean-Luc Godard. It's all a game, to enjoy, one which allows and encourages reader/viewer participation. The meaning is provided by the reader.viewer, as the narrator assures us in the last moments of N. TOOK THE DICE, a film which directly addresses the audience with respect and conspiratorial intimacy. 

In 1975 I had the chance to see EDEN AND AFTER presented with a following Q&A by Robbe-Grillet. The second feature was his even more transgressive SLOW SLIDINGS.... . I was somewhat shocked by the intensity of the sadomasochistic imagery in the latter, and it had trouble finding wide release in France or any release in North America at the time. Robbe-Grillet was teaching in New York at the time and was a most interesting host for his films, appearing bemused and answered questions politely and gratefully. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

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