20 April, 2021

Women In Peril: Brigitte Lahaie; Jess Franco; Alain Robbe-Grillet.

EDEN AND AFTER/L’Eden et apres (1970):   The shot captured below appears for less than one second of screen time and acts as a subliminal flash which doesn’t register immediately to the eye but is retained in the mind. The image is highly stylized, a depiction of a nude woman lying a bath of red liquid, signifying blood. The picture on the raised portion of the tub is of the lead actress, Catherine Jourdan.

The positioning of the pistol suggests that the woman has shot herself. But there is no realism here outside of what is arranged as a transgression.  An aesthetic shock of flesh, red, white, like an abstract painting. The fact that it registers subliminally rather than as readable image completes the transgression.  And it illustrates how Robbe-Grillet was an abstract painter in his writing and films.  It’s also an example of the influence of Sade on his prose and cinema. img_20180330_001130.jpg

When discussing Sade in cinema it’s difficult to minimize the filmography of Jess Franco. He returned to “The Divine Marquis” as an inspiration again and again, adapting his novel Justine (1791), his story Eugenie De Franval (1788). Sade's epic “Dialogues” Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795) was filmed by Franco as EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, released in 1970, featuring Christopher Lee as the Sadean narrator Dolmance. Other Sade adaptations followed until the end of his career in 2013

Image result for N Pris le des

I recently streamed N. A PRIS LES DES… an 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 (EDEN AND AFTER), 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. (I have since acquired the excellent Kino Classics Blu-ray of EDEN AND AFTER which contains N. A PRIS LES DICE as a bonus feature. It's highly recommended.) N... can accurately be described as a totally self-reflexive work in which an onscreen narrator deconstructs and comments on the film as we watch it. 

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 woman who represents and delivers death to the man who finds her. N. A PRIS LE DES… 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? What Robbe-Grillet does as director is arrange aesthetically endowed S&M tableaux in various sequences.
The key question is: can eroticism be a subject and technique in art? I think most would answer yes to that. It's been an artistic device since the art and literature of antiquity.  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 SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE (1974) actually was the subject of criminal litigation in Italy, was subsequently banned there and ordered destroyed. 

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, which the viewer is invited 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. A PRIS LE DES, a film which directly addresses the audience with respect and conspiratorial intimacy.  N…. projects the film we are watching as a game of chance, and is a separate film from EDEN AND AFTER.
In 1975 I had the chance to see EDEN AND AFTER presented with a following Q&A by Robbe-Grillet. The second feature was the even more transgressive, SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE, an eyeful for the first time viewer. . 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 as he answered questions politely and gratefully.
So, how does Jess Franco, generally considered a commercial hack with a penchant for arty pornography, fit into this dangerous game?

Consider his 1978 I'M BURNING UP ALL OVER, one of his last films produced by Robert De Nesle.

 De Nesle, who achieved fame and fortune producing sword and sandal films in the early 1960s (SAMSON, HERCULES VS. MOLOCH) by this time was targeting the French porn circuit with his productions. He went so far as to order Franco to shoot post production hardcore porn inserts for such films as LA COMTESSE PERVESE (1973). 

Here's what I thought of I'M BURNING UP ALL OVER when I reviewed it on Mobius Home Video Forums over 20 years ago: 
I burn all over 1979 Je brûle de partout
 aka JE BRULE DE PARTOUT. Directed by Jess Franco (credited as Jacques Aicrag). Jenny Goldstone (Susan Hemingway) is abducted after a night at a popular discotheque. She is the most recent victim to fall into the hands of an international white slavery cartel. The point person is the beautiful, blond Lorna (Brigitte Lahaie/Van Meerhaegue) who, along with her henchmen, bundles the girls aboard a ship fitted with an orgy room into which a sedating "love drug" is piped. They are transported to a brothel in Portugal where one of Jenny's customers will turn out to be her own father, ironically revealed to be the financier behind the ring. But there is someone else on the trail of the abductors, a certain investigator whose name will be familiar to those familiar with the filmography of Jess Franco, Al Pereira. 

One of Jess Franco's more obscure sexploitation efforts, this one is of note mainly for the alluring presence of Ms. Lahaie who would go on to be featured in several memorable Jean Rollin titles (FASCINATION, NIGHT OF THE HUNTED). Lahaie, like Rita Calderoni or Rosalba Neri, is one of those Euro-cult actresses whose stunning beauty is equaled by a formidable acting talent. She can play a mean bitch (as here, or in FACELESS) or a pathetic victim (cf NIGHT OF THE HUNTED), and sometimes a bit of both (cf FASCINATION). This was shot in less than a week and really looks it. The "love drug" sequences are represented by smoke being forced through crudely cut rubber tubes. The love drug concept also turns up in the JF filmography as early as THE GIRL FROM RIO asa SUMURU 2 (1968), and is also prominent in CAPTIVE WOMEN aka LINDA/NAKED SUPERWITCHES OF THE RIO AMORE (1980) {see the self-explanatory still on p 143 of OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO to get a taste of the latter title}. 
I term all the above mentioned titles as Women-In-Peril, a related offshoot of the Women-in-Prison genre, also a goldmine for JF. Some plot elements, especially the father-daughter erotic complications, are also present in Franco's COCKTAIL SPECIAL, another adaptation of Sade's PHILOSOPHY IN THE BEDROOM, also made in 1978, the reported year of Robert De Nesle's death. 

Ms. Lahaie apparently quarreled with Franco on set and she doesn't look like a happy camper, but she does look terrific and can act, as she verified forever in Jean Rollin's NIGHT OF THE HUNTED and Franco's FACELESS (1988)! My favorite part was the opening, set in a glittering disco. Franco pans up from Lahaie's black leather boots to the neon colored-light show and you immediately know you're in Jess Franco territory (despite the use of one of his rarer pseudonyms during the amusing spoken credits). The director even manages to work in his trademark Al Pereira P.I. character, but Jean Ferrere's thug-like visage is no match for the more ambiguous mug of Antonio Mayans, my own favorite interpreter of JF's favorite Private Eye. Daniel J. White's moody jazz score adds a dash of much needed atmosphere. 

This rather obscure title was one of three hardcore quickies produced by the late Robert de Nesle and directed by Franco in 1978, the year of the producer's death and one of the director's less than favorite years.

NOTE: I have recently come across this quote from Brigitte Lahaie in a 2009 interview on the website PSYCHOVISION "Jess [Franco] who has a certain talent unfortunately ruined by some confusion [...]." This was about 20 years after Franco give her role of the female villain in his gore epic FACELESS (1988), in which she was absolutely terrific. I guess she was thinking of her more negative experiences on JE BRULE DE PARTOUT. by Robert Monell at Mon, May 01, 2000, 18:04:23
--modified by Robert Monell at Mon, May 01, 2000, 18:57:19.

It has been 20 years since I first published this review and there is still no HD/OAR/English friendly DVD/BD (of which I'm aware) to be found anywhere. You may be able to find it on some Internet torrents with English subs. One thing is for sure, both Franco and Robbe-Grillet were endlessly fascinated by images of captive women in chains, bondage or in cages. Franco formalized this interest in his Women-In-Prison films for Harry Alan Towers, Eurocine, Erwin Dietrich and in his 1980s films. The most noticeable difference is Franco's WIP films are never arty or slick whereas Robbe-Grillet's images of women in cages in EDEN AND AFTER and some other of his films are almost suitable for framing. Seeing I'M BURNING UP... again recently I was struck by how little dialogue there is in the film. It opens with a long scene in a disco as Ms Lahaie dances it up while recruiting women for future capture. The victims are kidnapped and taken to an offshore cargo ship by speedboat. No dialogue needed here. It's all very straightforward.
(C) Robert Monell, 2021