Sunday, June 20, 2010

Jean Rollin's La fiancée de Dracula (2000)

"For a long time," says Jean Rollin, "I dreamed of a close-up, an image, of a woman, naked if possible, the whiteness of her body making a nice contrast with the pebbles on the ground. And she is tied to wooden posts with the tide rising until it enveloped and covered her and I described it in many of my books. In the end, my heroine dies, caught in a trap, with the tide rising all around her. Finally, in my most recent film, La fiancée de Dracula I was able to realize this dream."
This anecdote by Rollin about his film, La fiancée de Dracula (2000), is fantastically rich. Within, there is the idea that the film maker is haunted ("for a long time") by images within his dreams. He has rendered this dream in his fiction; and whether the fiction inspired the dream or vice versa is unknown. The image was only "realized," or made true (perhaps), when captured on film. The romantic idea that a whole film could have its impetus in a dream, and the whole film could be created in order to capture this dream image is very Rollin-esque. The "pebbles on the ground" belong undeniably to one of Rollin's favorite cinematic settings, the beach at Dieppe; and his return there to film sequences as in La fiancée de Dracula is unsurprising. Also unsurprising, La fiancée de Dracula is a dream-like film.
The Dieppe sequence, which Rollin describes above, re-creates (or evokes) another sequence from his cinema. Rollin writes, "Again, the screenings were punctuated by laughter and sarcastic remarks. For me the most painful laughter came during the scene on the beach; on the pebbled shore a vampire suddenly emerges from a box. This is one of the most unusual images of my cinema, and despite the whistling and heckling it remains dazzling for me. It's there that true strangeness lies." This description is about a film that he made approximately thirty years earlier, La vampire nue (1969). Perhaps with the freedom that he found with his previous film, Les deux orphelines vampires (1995), Rollin was ready to reunite two lovers in his cinema, a vampire and the reluctantly-drawn and eager-to-surrender lover in La fiancée de Dracula.
All who come in contact with Dracula within La fiancée de Dracula succumb to madness; and the characters who populate this simple narrative, the viewer encounters them in various states of such. The Professor (Jacques Orth), also a medium, and his assistant, Eric (Denis Tallaron) are searching for the legendary Count. The Count is hidden away, seemingly in another dimension, while parallel characters who exist on earthbound planes, such as an ogress (Magalie Madison), a she-wolf (Brigitte Lahaie), and a pale, frail female vampire (Sandrine Thoquet), attempt to keep his location a secret. The key to finding Dracula is through Isabelle (Cyrille Iste) whose location is being guarded also. Isabelle is housed in a convent in Paris by a special order of nuns who are determined to keep Isabelle from uniting with Dracula. Succumbing to madness in a very severe state, the nuns' hold over Isabelle is tenuous. The Professor and Eric attempt to free Isabelle from the convent to find Dracula.
In response to the question, "What influence have the Surrealist artists (such as Dali, Magritte, Trouille) had on the way in which you structure your films," Rollin responds: "Of course, Surrealistic art had a great influence on me. But not only painting. For example in Le Frisson des Vampires, a girl gets out of a clock at the stroke of midnight, this image is a surrealistic composition. The image shot is surrealistic work. Like the collages of Max Ernst, I like to show strange motives, poetry, not gore. I prefer the fantastic, not the gore."
This response by Rollin is compelling (it is taken from a late interview, closer in time to La fiancée's production, in Issue Number Four of Ultra Violent magazine, edited and published by Scott Gabbey, Palm Bay, FL, 2002); and his choice of words, especially "strange motives" is telling. With the motif of Dracula's contact (or influence) causing madness, each character's dialogue moves into Absurdism. The absurdist dialogue against the surrealist imagery is both disorienting and fantastic. Most of the "parallel" characters within the film are examples with Madison's ogress character being a strong one. When the Professor and Eric (and the viewer) first encounter Madison's character, she is being teased at the base of a large tower in a village by the locals. Eric believes with her madness that she is unable to give any helpful information, but the Professor chides him: within her mind, despite the madness, is the key. The professor uses his medium skills to decipher and guide Madison with her words. The image of the young woman, frolicking in madness around the large tower, is another beautiful Rollin composition.
Rollin returns with his clock imagery (even more so in his subsequent La nuit des horloges (2007)); his Dieppe beach imagery; vampires and clowns. But there is also a willfulness, seemingly not apparent in his previous work (save Perdues dans New York (1989) and Les deux orphelines). La fiancée de Dracula feels also less guarded than his previous works. It is as if Rollin is filming truly what he wants regardless of audience reaction. If there is any laughter, perhaps Rollin is fueling it intentionally. The Mother Superior has a notable cigarette lighter in another standout sequence. Along with his willfulness, Rollin is very much playful and poetic with La fiancée; and it's well-worth seeing for Rollin fans.
The first Rollin quote is from an interview included on the region-one Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD of La fiancée de Dracula (the link is for purchase and reference). The second Rollin quote from within the third paragraph is from Rollin's essay in Virgins and Vampires, Crippled Publishing, edited by Peter Blumenstock, Germany, 1997. All other sources are as quoted within.

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