The Cinema of Jean Rollin

The Film of Jean Rollin

In the 1970s, French director Jean Rollin (1938–2010) created a unique niche for himself with a series of vampire films that yoke genre exploitation to art-house techniques. Redemption Films and Kino Lorber's new release of five Rollin films should lift the director out of his narrow cult following.

At his best—The Nude Vampire (1970), The Shiver of the Vampires (1971) and Lips of Blood (1975)—Rollin combined the visual flourishes of Cocteau and the intellectualizing dialogue of Godard with scenes of nude lesbian vamps. Rollin's languorous immortals aren't interested so much in wreaking jugular havoc as they are in waiting patiently for subconsciously willing victims to wander into their attractive webs. His vampires exist among us almost like a secret alien race, rather than as unfortunate bite victims.

The Nude Vampire opens with a bravura wordless sequence, set to a dissonant, modernist soundtrack, of a woman running down darkened streets pursued by men in totemistic animal masks. She seeks safety in the arms of a young passerby but is finally captured and returned to a mansion/hospital for experiments in eternal life. The scene has all the dreamlike qualities of Cocteau's Orpheus following Eurydice into the underground.

In The Shiver of the Vampires, a honeymooning couple stops by the overgrown chateau of some distant relatives who turn out to be highly philosophical vampires more interested in discussing Masonic history than in feasting on their guests—they remind one very much of Jean-Pierre L–aud dressed up as Saint-Just spouting revolutionary rhetoric in Week End.

Lips of Blood (1975) uses vampires as sirens of nostalgia, drawing a man back to a long-lost childhood by the seaside where he once encountered an unsettingly beautiful young woman. His reverie is triggered, a la Proust, by a scent of perfume, and the whole story could have come straight out of Poe. In a different mood, The Iron Rose (1973) takes place almost entirely at night in an extremely spooky, decaying cemetery (in Amiens). A young couple (Hugues Quester and Francoise Pascal) visit the cemetery on a lark, only to find themselves trapped among the dead—and, at least in the girl's part, loving it. This disc includes a very amusing interview with Pascal, who did not turn out at all the way one might have expected.

The last film in the set, Fascination (1979) loses the fine balance of Rollin's earlier works, descending into extended nude scenes designed for the soft-core market without the redeeming intellectual bric-a-brac of his earlier works.

Rollin's films exhibit many of the echoing obsessions of a good auteur—performers reappear (matching vampirettes played with gusto by real-life twins Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel), and his films often finish with poetic intensity on a bleak, gray stretch of deserted beach, with shattered pilings jutting from the sand, as his ecstatic vampires shed their clothes and contemplate mythic journeys to sea with coffins for ships. The wackiness of these moments (along with the sense that the actresses were really going the extra mile for Rollin) is redeemed by a powerful poetic sense of tragic destiny.

The Cinema of Jean Rollin

$19.95 per disc

Redemption/Kino Lorber

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