Monday, April 30, 2012
Random Movie Report #105: The Iron Rose
Jean Rollin has a style that's easy to pick up on, not so easy to love. His films' languid pacing and emphasis on bleak but atmospheric images makes his approach comparable to Bergman or Tarkovsky, with the crucial difference that neither of them ever made films about lesbian vampires. The Iron Rose- which, to be fair, is not about that either- is a particularly difficult and abstract film, one I'm not entirely sure what I think about some weeks after having seen it. It's as much an experience as a film, and while it's slow and not terribly satisfying, there's the nub of something powerful in there.
A boy (Pierre Dupont) and a girl (Francoise Pascal) meet at a party, make a date to go biking together, and end up at a cemetery, where the boy leads the girl into a crypt so they can make love. (Apparently this works. Single guys, take this down.) Time passes, pleasantly we assume, and when they climb out, it's night and they have no idea how to get out. The cemetery, being old and European, is a twisted maze of crypts, stones, and overgrowth, also featuring the occasional open pit to fall into. The girl slowly goes mad, developing an unhealthy obsession with death- one that may have always been there, even if she was reluctant to enter the place to start with.
So that is more or less the entire film. Two people are in a graveyard, trying not to be; it's a plot that, with a little trimming, could have been a Night Gallery episode. As a result, it's kind of slow going, and it's hard to work out any progression in the story- there's no sense that they're getting anywhere, so the only real driving force is the breakdown of the girl's sanity, which as the above paragraph indicated isn't really consistent to start with. The film mostly foregoes a music score in favor of ambient noise, which gets a little annoying after a while.
And yet there's something here. The upside of the whole mood piece approach is that Rollin is genuinely good at creating mood. There's a palpable sense of isolation and displacement in the images of the graveyard, and it's easy to believe the two characters are lost, because all we see are spots of light illuminated in a tangle of blackness. The place is old and filled with loose bones and skulls, and the silence is palpable.
The thinness of the characters seems deliberate, though it makes the girl's madness harder to process- it seems like it has something to do with the boy becoming agitated and violent at being lost, but it's hard to piece together a sequence of events in something deliberately plotless. Pascal is alluring in her way, just captivating enough to help anchor our interest, but both she and Dupont have to struggle with a script that gives them very little motivation.
As I've said in the past, atmosphere counts for a lot. The power of film to transport us to somewhere else is one of the reasons I love it, and really managing that is no mean feat. The film is based on a poem by Tristan Corbiere, and perhaps its idiosyncrasies stem from the fact that it doesn't stray very far from the poetic form- the aim, in the end, is to present images, not take us through a story. I'm not sure the picture is entirely successful in this regard, since it does still have to keep us engaged and it doesn't always do that, but what's there is more than enough to be worth a look.
Based on the poem by Tristan Corbiere
Scenario by Jean Rollin
Dialogue by Maurice Lemaitre
Directed by Jean Rollin