Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jean Rollin's La nuit des horloges (2007)

It's curious as to whether Jean Rollin read this passage and was inspired:

Asked about these scenes and characters who pop up in film after film, Rollin merely shrugs and says he doesn't know why they come to him. He tries to avoid them but they are always there: 'Perhaps a psychologist could tell you.' Yet, because of their place within his personal mythology, the images he uses are actually very specific and richly resonant. In each film they acquire--or reveal--new levels of meaning, rather like a pearl being built up layer by layer over a grain of sand.
The problem for many viewers is that they are always trying to work out what these images 'symbolise' and who these characters 'really' are. Actually they don't symbolise anything. In the same way that Jess Franco uses series characters--Orloff, Radek, Al Pereira--in many of his films--'old friends'--so Rollin gives us little glimpses, with each of his films, of the people and places who figure in his own universe. (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995.)

This is speculation, but Rollin is aware of the work from where these paragraphs are quoted. Here is a still from his film Les deux orphelines vampires (1995):Those "people and places who figure in his own universe" literally populate one of Rollin's latest films, La nuit des horloges (2007). A young woman, Isabelle (Ovidie) is like one of the hypothetical viewers referenced above: her cousin, a film maker named Michel Jean, has recently died. She knows little of the man personally. The two separated when she was very young. Now a grown woman, Isabelle sits near the entrance to a railway tunnel, reading her favorite book, when a character from one of Michel Jean's films appears to her. Isabelle begins a journey to discover what kind of artist her cousin was and to discover who he was as a person. During her journey, characters from his films continue to "pop up," and tell Isabelle about the film maker.

To begin to identify and to then chronicle the myriad actors and characters who appear in La nuit des horloges would be a gross and annoying display of film geekery but, above all, wholly unnecessary. During Isabelle's journey, nearly every actor and/or character will tell her who they are and how they figure into Michel Jean's universe. Rollin, the director, cross cuts their dialogue with scenes from his previous films. Despite Rollin's cinema being more widely available and criticism of his work appearing more frequently, Jean Rollin is still a very obscure film maker. This sentiment is not lost on the director.
One of the most striking sequences occurs at a burned forest setting where Isabelle encounters a character played by Sabine Lenoël. Where is this place? asks Isabelle. The "burned forest" setting is one where the film maker always wanted to film but was unable to. The setting is striking natural scenery. Isabelle, through the grandfather clock at Michel Jean's home in Limoges, visits another location which Rollin himself identified as a place where he hoped to film in "his next film." (identified in his interview included as a supplement on the Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD of Les deux orphelines vampires). "It's a unique wax museum," says Rollin, "from the last century and it's very curious." The Père Lachaise cemetery is also striking visually where ghosts from Michel Jean's cinema encounter Isabelle.While the meta elements are cleverly rendered into La nuit des horloges, this is by far not a post-modern attempt by Rollin to be self-referential and hip (which is seemingly annoying the majority of film viewers these days). During my first viewing, La nuit was quite disorienting: seemingly part of its design was to be strange and that was not lost on me. During a second viewing, I was struck by how melancholy the film was. A particularly affecting scene occurs with Isabelle and a genuine actor from one of Rollin's (or Michel Jean's) "lost" films. The actor, who is quite perfect in the film, is either generating true emotion felt by his lines and/or giving a very emotional performance. The emotion is very much present not only in the scene but in the overall film. This is not to say La nuit is depressing as a lot of the nostalgia and its positive energy is on display. Isabelle encounters another actress from Rollin's cinema in her bedroom at the maison in Limoges. Her performance is emotional also, but it is quite obvious her roles in Rollin's cinema were memorable and perhaps not tinged with any sadness.Ovidie is a notable figure in current French cinema and its culture, and she deserves wider discussion in subsequent entries. During my second viewing of La nuit, I was struck by how similar she is to Brigitte Lahaie in many of her memorable performances from Rollin's cinema. Like Lahaie, Ovidie is an extremely beautiful and sensuous woman who conveys a powerful sexuality but who is also able to convey a real sense of innocence and shyness simultaneously. Her performance is essential to the success of La nuit. La nuit des horloges is available on region two DVD from German label, X-Rated, and has French audio with optional German and English subtitles. It's anamorphic widescreen and has chapter stops and nine trailers from the label's other releases (including some Rollin ones). I purchased the disc from retailer, Diabolik DVD, from whom I purchase often and rate very highly.


Neil Fulwood said...

It's a shame that many people label Rollin as a director of exploitation purely because of the sexual (and often sapphic) imperative of his films. He's so idiosyncratic and his films shot through with such a unique aesthetic that he easily qualifies as an auteur.

I’ve nominated you for a Versatile Blogger award, by the way.

Details here:

Best wishes,


Aaron said...

Diabolik is one of the best sites out there for acquiring not-so-readily available genre movies at a fair price. Great site. I actually added a bunch of Rollin movies to my queue last night so I was surprised to see this on my blog roll, although not that surprised since you cover Rollin frequently. I haven't seen any of his movies in a while, but they've been on my mind as of late. Can't wait to explore his filmography.

Hans A. said...

First, Neil, thank you. I've commented back at Agitation on the award. I agree with you also about Rollin and appreciate your comments.

Aaron, looking forward to reading your thoughts on Rollin. I still haven't written on my all-time favorites from him! Diabolik is indeed great.

Have a great weekend and be cool.