Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jean Rollin's Les deux orphelines vampires (1995)

"The story of Les Deux...involves two little blind orphans. They can only see at night because they are vampires and the film tells of their adventures. They meet strange creatures, a winged vampire lady, a wolf. There will be no nudity, but--rest assured--there will be some beautiful graveyard scenes, and it's very poetic and full of beautiful dialogue. Brigitte Lahaie will star in it, as well as Tina Aumont, who plays 'The Ghoul.' The two orphans will be played by Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul, two young actresses who have never worked in films before. I found them through a newspaper ad and they are absolutely gorgeous, as you will see."
"[...][T]he vast doorway leading nowhere, a giant yawn of emptiness, which I noticed every day on the way to and from the set. I managed to set aside one hour in the work schedule so that we could use the site for the orphans to walk through."
The image of the doorway would be poetic without Rollin's anecdote informing it, but nonetheless it is a powerful image within his Les deux orphelines vampires (1995). Rollin's anecdote informs its poetic nature in such a way that it almost imbues the film with more hidden mystery and the fantastique. The image and story are poetic alone, set apart from the film: a doorway (a poetic description, as it appears more like a giant gate) with no utility whatsoever, easily circumvented from either side, without maneuvering through the middle, from a distance leading to different points of grass in the same field. At one time, it can be assumed that the doorway did have some utility, leading into an estate now gone or never built. Or perhaps its architects designed the doorway to sit in the middle of the field as its intentional purpose. For whatever reason, Rollin adjusted his entire production to film at its location for a fleeting sequence in Les deux orphelines vampires.

Now fifteen years old, Les deux orphelines vampires is one of Jean Rollin's latest feature films. My initial viewing of the film is almost as old, prior to the DVD revolution, through a dodgy, VHS screener, won perhaps in an online auction. Undeniably, the washed-out picture from umpteen duplications combined with its format drastically reduced its visuals. Needless to say, it was hard to appreciate the film, and at the time, I did not. From what I discerned, Les deux orphelines vampires was an overwhelmingly romantic film, not filled with what I would later learn as Rollin romanticism but the romanticism of the older film maker, revisiting childhood themes through nostalgia. For most viewers and critics, these aesthetics signal an artist's mortality and the end of his/her career. The film serves as a reminder of what was with the artist's work; where in Rollin's case, I saw his work as frequently surrealist montages of sex and violence and pop culture, such as vampires, clowns, pirates, and thieves.
Les deux orphelines vampires is based upon Rollin's novel of the same name, originally published in 1993 by Editions Fleuve Noir, Collection Angoisses No. 6, and was the first in a series of five books involving the titular pair, all penned by Rollin. Les deux orphelines vampires was translated into English and released as Little Orphan Vampires, translated by Pete Tombs who also wrote an introduction, Redemption Books, London, U.K., 1995. It also contains stills from within of the film. Tombs writes in his introduction, "Beginning with Le viol du vampire in 1968, French director Jean Rollin has made 15 films. Most of them have been in the horror/fantasy genre. He's often described as a maker of 'sexy vampire' movies. Yet what really makes his films interesting is not the sex, but the unique fairy tale quality that many of them have...This is the aspect of his work that surfaces most strongly in the books he has written. Little Orphan Vampires is the first of Rollin's fictions to be available in English and, although it has horrifying sequences, it's the romantic, almost whimsical, quality of the story that will surprise many readers." Subsequent to the film's completion, Rollin writes, "The film closely follows the book (and a part of the second volume), even down to the dialogues, which gives them a literary feel, a bit out of phase with the film, which I rather like."Many of Rollin's oldest artistic collaborators work both behind and in front of the camera. One of the most beautiful sequences involves actress, Tina Aumont. Craig Ledbetter, a visitor to the set, describes Aumont and wonderfully describes her scene:

A surprise visitor appears: Tina Aumont. The scandal-attracting Enfant Terrible of French cinema has lost none of her charisma from the days of Salon Kitty, although the excesses of the wild seventies have left their marks. Tina reveals herself to be the most approachable and, in spite of her long screen abstinence, very professional. "An actor without a film to work on is like a person without a family," she remarks, and it's quite obvious that she is happy about this chance for a comeback.
Her first scene is shot the next day. The location is a gigantic quarry not too far away from "Cheval Noir," whose wonderful stone and sand formations remind one of the surface of a distant planet. Cold and unique, it's a sharp contrast to the shapes and colors of the graveyard of Epigny. Here, in this desert from another dimension, Henriette and Louise meet a flesh-eating ghoul, a tragic figure played by Tina Aumont. The world after the apocalypse. The heart of every admirer of Italian Post-Doomsday movies bleeds. The cutting wind howls relentlessly, covering everyone and everything with thin white dust. At the end of the day, the work is done, and while we all try desperately not to bite on grains of sand, the comparatively quiet shooting of the castle scenes in a few days warms the heart.

(I assume that Ledbetter is the author since no author is credited in this piece but it appears in his published, edited, and designed European Trash Cinema, No. 13, Kingwood, Texas, U.S.A., exact year of publication unknown [late 1990s presumably].)

Les deux orphelines vampires is unlike any film made in 1995, similar to his previous work, yet quite a different film from Rollin. A very sensual film, the two orphan vampires have sight when night falls, and the primary color in which they see is blue; and that color permeates the images. Les deux orphelines vampires was released on DVD in 2002 by Media Blasters/Shriek Show as Two Orphan Vampires in anamorphic widescreen with both French (with English subtitles) and English language tracks. Included are brief, later-day interviews with both leads, Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul, and an approximately forty-five minute interview with Rollin, discussing primarily this film but spanning to other facets of his career. The interview ends with a tour of Rollin's office where he shows some important items, including the Book of Incan art, which appears in the film.
Today, I appreciate, admire, and enjoy Les deux orphelines vampires. It is an ethereal, timeless, and very poetically-rendered film. The imagery inspires poetic description. Here are Rollin's thoughts on the completed film:

"And I had a production crew that worked without a hitch: my old crony Lionel Wallman, Sam Selsky making his last film and Jacques Michel, who had already worked on Killing Car. All this gave me the greatest freedom I ever had on a film. It is tamer, but better constructed and more controlled. One might miss the baroque craziness of Viol, Frisson, or Requiem, the wild improvisations of Bankok or Killing Car, and the strangeness of Demoniaques or La rose de fer, but at the same time I believe that Orphelines renders a very accurate picture of the cinema as I understand it, that's to say having the freedom to film what I feel like."
The final quote is from Rollin's essay on Les deux orphelines vampires included in Virgins and Vampires, Crippled Publications, Germany, 1997, edited by Peter Blumenstock, as is the second quote about the "doorway" and the final quote in the fifth paragraph. The first Rollin quote is from an interview conducted with Blumenstock in the same volume. The bibliographic information in the fifth paragraph is from Jean Rollin, Monster Bis, edited by Norbert Moutier, France, date of publication unknown. All other quotes and information are from their sources as cited within.


Alex B. said...

Haven't seen this one yet.
But there hasn't been a single Rollin film ("Zombie Lake" included) which I watched and didn't enjoy in some way. .

Hans A. said...

I hope you check it out, Alex. I've got a couple more Rollin reviews coming soon. He's a personal favorite.

lights in the dusk said...

I haven't seen this film (or even any of Rollin's movies since the early 1980s; the most recent of his films in my DVD collection is The Escapees from 1981), so it's comforting to see from these screen captures that he's still making exactly the same kind of film; i.e. gothic, pastoral, nocturnal, serene, day-for-night looking surrealist horror stories.

Given the fact that this one has Tina Aumont in it, I'll definitely have to search it out.

Hans A. said...

I hope you check it out. I think it's a different film from Rollin, substantively, but visually, yes, Rollin's imagery is quite poetic. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.