I have to confess to being not that familiar with the works of French art-house director Alain Robbe-Grillet. I’ve seen LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD (which he co-wrote) several times because I love it, but I've never had the chance to immerse myself in his directorial efforts. Anyone (like me) requiring a crash course in Robbe-Grillet is going to be well served by a new Blu-ray and DVD six film set currently being prepared for release by the BFI. Although the movies are not going to be released by the BFI individually, I thought it might be fun to give some of them separate write-ups.
The most recent film in the set is 1974’s SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE. Made on a tiny budget it tells, at its most superficial level, the story of an unnamed girl (Anicée Alvina) who is arrested and accused of the crime of murdering her flatmate (Olga Georges-Picot from Fred Zinneman’s DAY OF THE JACKAL and Tyburn’s PERSECUTION) by stabbing her to death with a pair of scissors. That’s about it for logic as Robbe-Grillet’s film presents us with a series of fascinating, disturbing, erotic and bizarre images that make up most of the running time.
While the film doesn’t always make a lot of sense (and probably isn’t supposed to) it’s never less than hypnotic, with plenty to please those with a fondness for mid-1970s Euro-horrors. With its combination of blood, beaches and beautiful women, there’s something of a Jean Rollin flavour to much of what is on screen, but Robbe-Grillet is a better film-maker than Rollin, and his use of these elements to explore a number of thematic concepts is ultimately more successful, and carried off with a far greater sense of finesse. Likewise, the numerous scenes of dungeon-related kinkiness reminded me of the work of Jess Franco, but with far more style and a genuine sense of the erotic rather than the ‘point the camera and pray’ approach frequently employed by that (beloved by me I’ll hasten to add) director.
For Euro fans there are several familiar faces. As well as Georges-Picot the judge interrogating Alvina is played by Michel Lonsdale (MOONRAKER & THE NAME OF THE ROSE) and the cop who initially gets called to Alvina’s house is played by an uncredited Jean-Louis Trintignant (UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME, SO SWEET, SO PERVERSE and many others).
The BFI’s Blu-ray looks gorgeous, and is an improvement on the Region A Redemption release in terms of extras if nothing else. Both discs contain a fascinating interview with Robbe-Grillet from 1984 that helped me understand the film, but the BFI disc also has a newly-filmed introduction by the director’s wife Catherine (who wrote S&M classic L’IMAGE, later filmed by Radley Metzger) and an erudite and informative commentary by Tim Lucas.
The more I think about it, the more I really liked SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE. It virtually screams mid-70s French art-house, with all the kinds of imagery that was mercilessly satirised on British TV sketch shows by everyone from MONTY PYTHON to THE GOODIES (eggs being cracked open on a naked girl, scantily clad ladies lying in rock pools for no good reason, a bed frame buried on a beach, and many more). But in a modern world where cinemas show little but dull, formulaic, sanitised Hollywood product it still feels like an absolute breath of fresh air. Slightly naughty sado-masochistic beautifully filmed art-house air, mind you, but as far as I’m concerned that just makes it all the sweeter.
The BFI is releasing their box set ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET: SIX FILMS 1963-1974 on Blu-ray and DVD formats on 30th June 2014.