Un Film Expressionniste de Jean Rollin
Reviewed By-Sean Patrick Dolan Director: Jean Rollin Cast: Lieva Lone, Patricia Hermenier, John Rico, Wally Braque, Paul Bisciglia, Joelle Coeur, Louise Dhour Source: Encore/Redemption Collectorís Edition (PAL, Region 0, 2005) Extras: 3 Discs, Booklet, Interviews, Director Commentary, Le Pays Loin (Unreleased Rollin Short Film); French Language- Subtitles in English, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish Runtime: Approx. 91 Minutes (Feature)
DISC ONE contains the feature film, in French with a wide variety of subtitle options.
LES DEMONIAQUES is an often overlooked film by French auteur Jean Rollin- which is a shame, because it is one of the finest films of his early career. The directorís goal in DEMONIAQUES was to revive the ambience of the old adventure films he saw when he was young, in particular the pirate genre. The title sequence, a voiceover intro of the characters with a burning ship in the background, is reminiscent of these period films. The film centers around a crew of "wreckers", pirates who wait on an islandís shore for ships to run aground, so that they can rape, murder, and rob the passengers. The crew consists of "The Captain" (John Rico), a man who drowns the horrors of the atrocities he has committed in a sea of alcohol, "Le Bosco (The Brute)" (Wally Brasque), a violent, untrustworthy man who has eyes on the Captainís leadership, Paul (Paul Bisciglia), a common lackey, and last, but certainly not least, Tina "Joelle Coeur", a deadly "she-wolf" who uses sex and seduction as her main weapons.
One fateful night, a ship wrecks on the shore and two virginal twins, dressed in pure white gowns with long, flowing blonde hair, emerge from the sea. They are brutalized and raped by the Captainís crew and left for dead. While the rest of the crew carouses at the local tavern, the Captain is moody and drinking profusely, the events of the night weighing heavily on him. His mood is not improved by the song the Madame (Louise Dhour) plays on her piano, a dark and prophetic warning. The Captain sees ghostly visions of the twins in every corner, and he is afraid- the rest of his crew merely thinks that he has finally gone mad. Meanwhile, the twins are indeed alive, and after wandered into the ruins of an old church, they meet an "angel of redemption", a dark and mysterious man who has been imprisoned in the ruins by the natives, who still fear him. Only the twins can free him, but there is a price- they must sacrifice their bodies to him. Having paid their due, the twins have until sunrise to enact their vengeance . . . .
LES DEMONIAQUES contains a great deal of the qualities of the "Rollinade" film and, as such, is a great place to start for viewers unfamiliar with Jean RollinĎs work. The director displays a wide variety of his influences in this film: the old serials of the forties and fifties, German Expressionism brought to France by director Georges Franju, pulp novels of France and America, Universal pictures from the States, his love of art- especially painting, and last, but not least, his obsession with the "fantastique"- anything related to the world of fantasy and the imagination. As one becomes more familiar with Rollinís films, several motifs appear again and again. Among them are "the twins", often- but not always- vampires, always doomed to a tragic fate. The counterpoint, the "she-wolf"- an evil yet seductive female- is also present here in the form of Tina the Wrecker, portrayed by Joelle Coeur in her breakout role. Rollinís films are never without beaches or ruins, or a mysterious cast of outcast characters- clowns, gatekeepers, demonic figures. The directorís pacing and dialogue are iconic, slow and entrancing, inimitable. And, of course, no one mixes eroticism and violence, the beautiful and the grotesque, as naturally as Rollin.
DISC TWO contains a variety of extras. The first is the audio commentary by director Jean Rollin. Filmed in Amsterdam in May of 2005, the commentary is in English, and runs approximately 50 minutes.One of the greatest features made possible by the DVD release of films such as LES DEMONIAQUES is the chance to hear extended commentary by directors such as Rollin. The directorís voice reveals his humorous, youthful nature and his continued love of cinema, despite a difficult career and prolonged illness. Rollin recalls many details of filming conditions and actors, even from his early films. Here he shares a little known fact about the erotic aspect of many of his films- as a condition for obtaining funding, many of his producers demanded "lots of sex" in the films. For this reason, several scenes that Rollin had intended to be brief (such as the bedroom scene between Tina and the Captain, as well as the scene in which the twins "sacrifice" themselves to the avenging angel) ran much longer.
However, the film certainly didnít suffer from the added sexuality, as the film starred the stunning Joelle Coeur (who also appeared in Rollinís erotic films LES JEUNE FILLES IMPUDIQUES (1973) and TOUT LE MOND IL EN A DEUX (1974)). Rollin states that Coeurís body was so perfect, he was inspired to pose and shoot her "as a statue", giving as an example the beautiful scene of her standing framed between two huge rocks. He also compares her to Brigitte LaHaie, an actress who would go on to appear in many adult European films after starring in RollinĎs LE RAISINS DE LA MORT (GRAPES OF DEATH) (1978), FASCINATION (1979), and LA NUIT DES TRAQUEES (NIGHT OF THE HUNTED) (1981). Rollinís artistic side is revealed again as he talks about arranging the visions of the twins "like they were a painting", and again when he explains that the character of the clown is present mainly to contrast her red costume with the twinsí white gowns, and also with the stark beauty of the ruins.
Like many of his films, LES DEMONIAQUES was shot on a low budget and a tight schedule, in this case on Chausey Island and in a Belgian studio. The Patrons of the tavern, the whores and sailors, are all personal friends of Rollin. Filming scenes at night on the beach was very difficult, resulting in the blue tones of the rocks throughout the film- Rollin was actually pleased with the result. The "Cemetery of Ships" was not made of props, it was indeed real. The ships were held sacred by the locals sailors who had survived their crashes and made daily pilgrimages to visit them, and Rollin had difficulty negotiating the permission to burn one of them for the film. Finally, he was allowed to burn one ship but it was done with great caution- sailors carrying rifles watched over the shooting, and if the fire had spread to any surrounding ships, well, we may not have seen another Rollin film! Rollin tells another hilarious anecdote regarding the difficulty of shooting the scene where the tide comes in over the two girl tied to a piece of boat wreckage. One of the actresses portraying the twins was a Belgian model, and quite the prima donna, as Rollin tells it. Iíll leave it at that, so that the reader can enjoy the story as much as I did the first time. Rollin also reveals that his directing style allows for improvisation and that most of the haunting final sequence was improvised. This includes the pilgrims walking along the beach, the vegetation that the tide brought in (which covers the bodies of the wreckers as they sink into the mud) and the last lingering images of the twinís bodies. Surprisingly, it was only during this last sequence did Rollin finally believe that he was making a great film!
Next, the second disc also features an interview with Willy Braque. Filmed in Paris in May of 2005, the interview is in French, with subtitles, and runs approximately 12 minutes. Brasque discusses his early acting career; his first role was as a schizophrenic, and from there he went on to play bad guys throughout the rest of his career. Brasque has nothing but praise for Jean Rollin, claiming that the director never screams and is always friendly. He gives his actors "freedom and space" in their performances. Brasqueís first Rollin film was JEUNES FILLES IMPUDIQUES (LEWD YOUNG GIRLS)", which also starred Joelle Coeur. In the 1970ís, he acted in many French erotic films- this led to two divorces! He worked with Rollin again in another of the directorís highly regarded artistic films, LEVRES DE SANG (1975). He also shares his memories of the late Jean-Jacques Renon, Rollinís director of photography on this and several other films. When asked about the current state of French cinema, he remarks on the extreme difficulty of finding funding. He then leaves us with a final thought, "I regret that in (contemporary) French films, beautiful women are made to look ugly. That used to be different. I donít need to see a woman do the dishes or cook." Finally, this disc is rounded out with the filmís original theatrical trailer.
DISC THREE contains a never before released short film by Jean Rollin, LES PAYS LOIN (1965).
LES PAYS LOIN was Jean Rollinís second short film. It was never screened in the cinema-or even film festivals- until years after it was made and, even then, on extremely rare occasions. This Encore release is the first opportunity that almost anyone has had to see this early work. The film is a science fiction piece in which a man and a woman are lost in a maze of streets and canít remember how they got there. When they do make it out onto the busy, populated streets, things are no better. The landmarks are unfamiliar and the people speak a strange language. Even at this very early stage, one can already see the themes of loneliness and melancholy, and a yearning for release that are trademarks of Rollin characters throughout his entire body of work.
The third disc also includes a directorís commentary for the LES PAYS LOIN- Rollin says that he has not seen the film since he shot it! He shares details about the actors and actresses, the conditions under which the film was shot, and what he learned from the experience- that making a film is easy! He doesnít discuss the plot or theme of the film much, but does make some comparisons to his later work, LA ROSE DE FER (THE IRON ROSE (1973)), in which the characters are also lost in a strange realm and are searching for a "door" back to reality. Rollinís accent can be difficult to understand, but he provides so much insight and so many anecdotes that it is worth listening closely.Rounding out the third disc are several deleted scenes- all of which are very nearly pornographic in content, as well as a slideshow picture gallery set to the filmís score.
The set also comes with a beautiful full color booklet with plenty of pictures (including some of the young director during the filming of LE PAYS LOIN), a terrific interview and essay by longtime Rollin fan Mike Lebbing, and comments by Rollin, only half of which are repeated in the audio commentary. This Encore box set is very highly recommended to all Jean Rollin fans!
Story: 4/5 Bitch Slaps Extras: 5/5 Bitch Slaps Picture/Audio: 5/5 Bitch Slaps Overall DVD: 5/5 Bitch Slaps
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