Wednesday, March 10, 2010

José Bénazéraf's L'enfer sur la plage (1965)

"L'enfer sur la plage se situe dans un cadre de roman d'aventures, trafic d'armes et services secrets. Une jeune nymphomane en bikini blanc sera le catalyseur inconscient des evenements sanglants a prevoir." (from Anthologie Permanente de l'Erotisme au Cinema José Bénazéraf by Paul Herve Mathis and Anna Angel, ed. Eric Losfeld, Le Terrain Vague, Paris, France, 1973)
"For...L'enfer sur la plage (Hell on the Beach; 1965), Benazeraf returned to the B-thriller style of L'eternite...Both films were successful, and both featured the expected Benazeraf mix of action, pretty girls and bare flesh that had already become his trade mark. But another, slightly more worrying, trait was also in evidence. As Cahiers du cinema noted, it was impossible to make any sense of the stories. Daylight shots appeared in the middle of sequences filmed at night; the dialogue often seemed unrelated to the action; establishing shots were done away with; long scenes filmed in single take replaced any conventional montage. The wilfulness that had always been present now took centre stage. But still there was a power and presence there and a determination to film, come what may. Even without a story, without dialogue and with no idea of where he was going Benazeraf loaded his camera and began to shoot. 'With all the stubborness and dignity of an angler in the middle of the desert.'
At the end of L'enfer sur la plage, Benazeraf gives his own view: 'Don't be deceived by appearances. Nothing happened by accident. Everything has been worked out, planned, premeditated...,' he says, as the camera moves through a darkened apartment." (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995)
Bazookas. Bikinis. The beach. Beautiful women. A score by Louiguy and legendary Chet Baker. Not only is a coherent narrative not necessary, any structure interferes with the laissez-faire, "come what may" attitude that José Bénazéraf's L'enfer sur la plage (1965) exudes. In her convertible, eating a flavored iced treat, "une jeune nymphomane en bikini blanc," driving along the seaside to the beach, comes to a quiet spot where three men are armed with bazookas. Their target is a small boat in the middle of a lagoon upon which lays a man and a woman napping and sunbathing. The cumbersome weapons are a lot more fun to play with than to manage; and the trio of men misses their target. Another group intercepts the trio and kills them, and the young blonde, having finished her iced treat and seen all the action, steals the binoculars out of one of the dead men's hands.
The MI5 makes an appearance, yet amongst all their intelligence-gathering computer technology, making typing noise and buzzing and whirring, Bénazéraf prefers the slow quiet shot of a female agent descending the stairs and walking in between the machines to gather a bit of paper. More specifically, it is the agent’s legs which capture Bénazéraf's eye on the stairwell, and as his camera stays static, the actress’s beautiful face comes into focus with a mischievous smile upon her face. Frogmen board the boat for a fight, while the well-dressed dinner guests watch emotionless as the deckhands dispatch the would-be assassins. A long shot of a female walking the shoreline of a beach at night follows, strolling to the soft tunes of the piano score. A phone call in the city and then back to the beach where two lovers descend the rocks to embrace at the bottom. Such a beautiful careless attitude carries L'enfer sur la plage. Bénazéraf loves to show ladies dancing, often slowly and seductively. These aren’t voyeuristic sequences: it’s open: the dancers are willing performers for willing viewers. The young blonde in the bikini eventually boards the boat where the dinner guests staved off two attacks; yet she’s the most successful in infiltrating those aboard. She dances at the side of the dinner table for the host, while the other two lovers take sanctuary at the shore. Atop the deck, the young blonde puts her hooks firmly into the host while casually rocking in a hammock. Chet Baker’s trumpet accompanies her swings. Some more espionage, back-stabbing, and a shoot out end the film. This is sex and violence, French-cinema-sixties style. God bless Bénazéraf."They called you the Antonioni of Pigalle," remarks an interviewer in Immoral Tales, to which Bénazéraf responds, "That's right."


Ben said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again -

God bless the French!

Alex Bakshaev said...

This film sounds fascinating.
I am unfamiliar with that director so it was a great read.
SOunds a bit similar to what Robbe-Grillet was playing around with at the time.
This sort of "cinema for the sake of cinema" is certainly something not done enough these days...

Copyboy said...

Film sounds pretty cool. Also, pretty impressed by your wheelchair observation.