Wednesday, January 29, 2014

DOUBLE FEATURE: Trans-Europ-Express/Successive Slidings of Pleasure (Redemption/Kino Classics)

I am very new to the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet, but I can tell you that I hope to become more familiar with his work after enjoying Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure. While I have a clear favorite among the two Blu-ray releases from Kino Classics via their association with Redemption Films, they both look stunning and can enrich fans of French cinema of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Robbe-Grillet is certainly not a horror director by any stretch of the imagination, but his work includes some truly suspenseful, exploitative and surreal moments that might appeal to our readers. Let’s tackle both Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure separately.


Synopsis from Kino Classics/Redemption:

Imprisoned in a convent, the girl's seductive wiles hypnotize the cops and clerics that surround her. All submit to her sexual whims, and are drawn into a sado-masochistic world where fantasy and reality are pleasurably blurred. This devilishly entertaining trip into deviance is made even more alluring by the special appearances of Jean-Louis Trintigant (Amour), Michael Lonsdale (Moonraker) and Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher).

This was my very first experience with a Robbe-Grillet picture which may not necessarily have been a great way to start. Not because Successive is a bad film or that I found it uninteresting. I actually enjoyed this picture quite a bit, but I’m not entirely sure I was prepared to handle the strange, repeated surreal images used in the picture. It’s as if someone took just a bit of Jess Franco’s erotic nightmare pieces and combined it with Salvador Dali stills and then set the whole thing to a murder mystery subplot. So to start I’m going to recommend watching the Trans-Europ-Express (the second movie in this double feature review) first. We’ll get into why when we cover that movie.

The strange murder mystery plot comes secondary to strange imagery used to reenact or recreate the crime scene and subsequent investigation. The path is a strangely erotic one. You’ll follow the protagonist down long corridors filled with nuns and torture devices and beautiful naked women in various state of discomfort or pain. There are strange bleak scenes where we get to watch a woman covered in red liquid and raw eggs. As I said before, this looks like a strange piece of moving two dimensional surrealist art. It’s absolutely stunning, but something tells me that the Robbe-Grillet necessity of combining abstract concepts that might be better suited to one of his novels with moving pictures might be a bit far out for some.

Still the whole thing looks grand. The disc features an interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet. It’s has been newly mastered in HD from the original 35mm film elements. Make sure you’re ready for subtitles as it’s in French. The disc also contains three trailers for Robbe-Grillet’s work. This one looks absolutely brilliant, colorful and vivacious. It’s a good transfer.

Note: 1.66:1 1920x1080p.


Synopsis from Kino Classics/Redemption:

On the train from Paris to Antwerp, a director (Robbe-Grillet) and his production team hash out the plot of a crime movie. Their story is enacted by Jean Louis-Trintignant (Amour), who plays Elias, a cocaine smuggler seduced by Eva (Marie-France Pisier, Celine and Julie Go Boating), who may be working for a rival gang. But as the director keeps changing the story, Elias becomes lost in a labyrinth of false leads and shifting allegiances.

Trans-Euro-Express has all the hallmarks of a crime thriller only it’s more subtle than what you might expect if I were to simply call it such. There are many points of intrigue wrapping a somewhat slow ride through a strange world of Euro-crime. Perhaps it feels like a more modern work of film noir and predecessor of movies like the French Connection. It’s significantly less edgy and the action is kept to a minimum providing a more cerebral take on cocaine smuggling and the dark underworld of the drug trade.  

This is a good way to get into Robbe-Grillet’s work because it’s less surreal though still erotic and with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing though it does movie a bit slow. The outcome is by no means obvious.  Compared to Successive, Trans-Euro-Express contains more concrete erotic images (not the aforementioned Salvador Dali homages and certainly no eggies and naked bodies). As such it feels more accessible. Perhaps it comes across more like a straightforward narrative than a journey through concept and form of film as literature.

This is also a newly mastered in HD from 35mm film elements in French with subtitles. The disc contains an interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet as well as trailers and a promo short from 2014. It’s in black and white, and the transfer is solid. 

Note: 1.66:1 1920x1080p

Both of these pictures are fine examples of what Redemption Films has been putting out in collaboration with Kino Classics. Their Mario Bava, Jean Rollin and Jess Franco releases have been widely successful and Robbe-Grillet is actually a very solid fit into that  strange coven of directors though less horrific in overall content and theme.

You can order Successive Slidings of Pleasure and Trans-Europ-Express NOW! Releasing this February.

-Doc Terror

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