The Films (5/5, 5/5)
I have long heard the name of director, author, and screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet discussed in cinema circles as a director whose work must truly be seen. However, until Redemption secured the rights to his films for stateside release I had not had the chance to see any of his work with the exception of Last Year at Marienbad, which he wrote, but was directed by one of the other great Alain's of French cinema Alain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Night and Fog). Now that I have seen the two gems that Kino in conjunction with Redemption films have unleased upon the Region A viewing public this month (Trans-Europ Express, and Successive Slidings of Pleasure) I can call myself a convert to the cinema of Robbe-Grillet.
The earliest of the two films unleashed by Redemption this month is also one of, if not, Robbe-Grillet's most popular film Trans-Europ Express. It takes the framework of a simple crime film, and essentially throws it out the window to create something that combines what I must assume is Grillet's mix of playfulness and sexuality.
The film opens on Robbe-Grillet himself boarding the titular Trans-Europe Express and meeting with a few screenwriters and producers that he is working with. They begin to discuss how the train they are on would be a great location for a film, and upon spying the famed French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant they decide he would be the perfect star for their hypothetical movie. From this point on in the film the story cuts between Robbe-Grillet and company working on the screenplay and Trintignant, and his cinematic alter ego, a first time drug runner named Elias who is attempting to smuggle cocaine between France and Belgium in a series of increasingly bizarre situations, obviously spurred on by the ever changing nature of the screenplay itself.
As I don't have an actual comparison point within the cinema of Robbe-Grillet, I will state that at times the film felt like one of the more anarchic features of French New Wave wunderkind Jean-Luc Godard. I am, of course, thinking of something from his mid to late 60's period like Alphaville or Weekend, where the plot seems to act as more of a framework for a series of successive bizarre images and events. Godard, of course, was known for his films being political allegories, whereas viewing Trans-Europ and Successive Slidings of Pleasure I am inclined to view Robbe-Grillet as an artist who is using film as an ever expanding medium for his eclectic and eccentric visual output, and not for any sort of social agenda.
Now while Trans-Europ Express was a strange film, it had some narrative, so to speak, to catch on to. By the time the second film in this month's releases came to pass Successive Slidings of Pleasure, it appears that Robbe-Grillet has decided to eschew with everything, but the barest of narrative threads for the film, and present a film that is visually wonderful, and maintains the playfulness of the earlier feature, but is certainly going in a far different direction. This film follows a woman who may or may not have murdered her roommate by stabbing her through the heart with a pair of scissiors, rather than face conviction she is taken to a convent where it is discovered she maybe a witch with powers of seduction.
The film feels much more in line with the Redemption library than the other feature as it feels something akin to horror cine-poet Jean Rollin than what came before, and in the last few years Redemption has released fine editions of Rollin's output in Region A land. The film is more sexual without traditional sexuality and features some instances of nudity, and to a degree violence. It is films like this that keep me obsessive seeking out new cinematic pleasures, for as there is not much of a narrative to speak of Robbe-Grillet's direction and visual sensibility creates something truly unique and wondrous for the adventurous film viewer, and that goes for both films here.
Kino/Redemption have unleashed both Successive Slidings of Pleasure, and Trans-Europ Express in their original aspect ratios in 1080p, and they both look outstanding. These might be the very best transfer that Redemption have unleashed upon the viewing public in the HD era. Trans-Europ has excellent contrast, detail, and a very nice natural grain structure at play. Successive Slidings of Pleasure has excellent colors, fine detail, flesh tones, black levels, and also a very natural grain structure. They are both an absolute visual treat.
The audio on both are LPCM 2.0 mono tracks in French. The dialogue comes through nice and clear as does the music and what effects are present. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Both films contain interviews with Robbe-Grillet over half an hour in length that are an absolute treat, and help to put the films into perspective, and are really both informative and entertaining to listen to especially coming from someone who is new to his cinema. There are also trailers for other Robbe-Grillet films, and a promo reel for the series.
Redemption Films has done an excellent service to film fans bringing these Robbe-Grillet films to North American viewers for the first time. The films are excellent, and the transfer are beautiful. The included interviews really push these over the top. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.