(a.k.a. LIPS OF BLOOD)
Review By-Sean Patrick Dolan Director: Jean Rollin Cast: Jean-Loup Phillipe, Annie Bell, Nathalie Perry, Catherine Castel, Marie-Pierre Castel, Paul Bisciglia Source: Encore Filmed Entertainment (2005, PAL. Region 0) Extras: 3 Discs, 64 Page Booklet, Audio Commentary, Interviews, French Language or Dubbed German- Subtitles in English, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish Runtime: Approx. 88 minutes (Feature)
LEVRES DE SANG is the most recent in a series of Jean Rollin releases by ENCORE FILMED ENTERTAINMENT and, like the previous three (LES DEMONIAQUES, REQUIEM POUR UN VAMPIRE, LA MORTE VIVANTE), it is packed with extra features. The first of three discs consists of the feature film presented in the anamorphic 16:9 aspect ratio with the original French audio track and a wide variety of optional subtitles. It also contains an introduction by Jean Rollin in which the director tells us of the difficulties in making this film. He considers the script he wrote for LEVRES DE SANG to be his best, but, unfortunately, not all of what he wrote made it to the screen. With only one week to go before shooting was to begin, one of the producers withdrew from the film. The loss of funds meant that an already tight four-week shooting schedule would have to be cut to an even shorter three weeks. Rollin had to quickly revise his script and schedule, and this meant that several sequences he had written were not shot. But, as the director points out, "the film exists and the story was saved", and he still considers the film a success. Although many critics agreed, the film was not successful in theatres. Rollin attributes this to the popularity of X-rated films, which had only recently become legal in France. Ironically, an "X-rated version" of LEVRES DE SANG with inserted pornographic scenes entitled SAUTE MOI DESSUS (SUCK ME, VAMPIRE) was very successful. Now, on to the feature presentation.
Frederic (Jean-Loup Phillipe) has never been able to remember certain parts of his childhood- a fact which has often bothered him. One night, at a party celebrating the debut of a new perfume, he sees an image that brings back a strong memory. The image is of a ruined castle used as the background for a flyer advertising the perfume. He flashes back to himself as a boy of ten. It is dark and he is lost. He stumbles upon the chateau on the beach and meets a young lady in white. She offers him shelter for the night, and, just before dawn, she wakes him warning him that he must never return. But, the boy has fallen in love with her and promises that he will be back. Back in the present day, his mother notices him staring at the poster and doesnít like it. She tries to discourage him from searching for the castle which he feels is the key to unlocking his memories. When he asks her about the landscape in the photo, she says that its probably just dťjB vu; that many pictures can give that impression. She also denies that his memory of the girl ever took place. Undaunted, he begins his search by visiting the woman who took the photographs for the advertisement. She refuses to tell him where the chateau is because she has been paid a great deal of money to keep silent. After a bit of persuasion, she agrees to meet him at the aquarium at midnight to tell him what she knows. To kill time before the meeting, Frederic enters a movie theatre and sees the girl in white standing in the dimly lit exit of the theatre gesturing for him to follow her. Amazingly, she does not appear to have aged a single day in the last twenty years. Outside, she vanishes before his eyes, right at the locked gates of a cemetery. He climbs over a steep wall to get inside. Without saying a word she continues to lead him through the cemetery to a tomb where inside rests several coffins. He pries opens the coffins to find bats inside. He leaves the tomb quickly; behind him vampire women rise from the coffins which were empty a minute before, but for the bats. These women will serve as his dark guardians while Frederic searches for the castle and his lost memories, while sinister forces do their worst to try to prevent him from reaching his goal . . . . .
Despite the circumstances under which it was made, LEVRES DE SANG is still a very respectable Rollin film. While the ending seems rushed and some key plot points are explained in voiceover, there remains plenty of style and substance in this effort. The story plays out somewhat like a film noir as Frederic clashes with his unknown enemies and flashbacks reveal clues hidden in his memories. In style, however, this is pure Rollin with cemeteries, a ruined castle on a beach and, of course, naked women with fangs. This film is a rare case of a male protagonist in a Rollin film. However, Fredericís experience is similar to that of a Rollin heroine. He is lost, alienated, being manipulated by forces he does not understand, but eventually finds what he is seeking- albeit not a "happy ending" in the traditional sense, but a typically melancholy and fatalistic Rollin resolution. Visually, LEVRES DE SANG is certainly up to par with Rollinís better films, with some truly impressive cinematography and his trademark "fantastique" imagery. The scenes shot on the steps outside the aquarium and particularly the one of young Frederic (played by Rollinís son Serge) approaching the ruined castle are standouts- but the strongest scene by far is the finale on the beach. Rollin is very adept at closing a film; in fact, at times he envisions the ending first and works backwards from that image.
DISC TWO features a number of excellent interviews- all are subtitled in English. The first piece, "Cette Plage Qui Me Suit: This Beach That Follows Me" should be of great interest to Rollin fans. The director is filmed on the iconic stretch of beach that reappears so often in his body of work, and he explains his childhood discovery of the place and his lifelong fascination. Even as a child, Rollin knew that he wanted to make movies. He promised himself right then: "If I ever get the chance to make a movie, I want to make it here." At the age of twenty, Rollin did indeed shoot his first short movie, LES AMOURS JAUNES (THESE JAUNDICED LOVES (1958)), on this beach. As Rollin explains, the sea and all things maritime are very important to him. If he could, he would make all his movies at the sea. As the directorís fans know, he did return to this location many more times in his films, most notably in LE VIOL DU VAMPIRE (1967), LA ROSE DE FER (1973), and LA FIANCEE DE DRACULA (2002). In the latter film, he finally realized his goal of shooting a character tied to one of the famous posts on the beach as the tide comes in and drowns the victim. Rollin plans to use the beach on his next two projects, which the director predicts will be his last. LA NUIT TRANSFIGUREE will be composed of fragments from his movies "like visions that appear" mixed with a new story. Finally, he plans to return to LíINTINERAIRE MARIN, a project that he started early in his career but never finished.
An interview with Jean-Loup Phillipe, the star of LEVRES DE SANG is next. Although Phillipe grew up in literary circles due to his mother, who ran a sort of salon in their home, he was a very poor student. After seeing him in a school production, his principal told him to quit school and become an actor. Phillipe did become a successful theatrical actor. One play in particular, "Tea and Sympathy" with Ingrid Bergman, launched his career, and he never stopped playing lead roles in theatre and on television. Eventually, Phillipe began to direct plays himself, and this is how he met Jean Rollin, who was writing reviews at this point. Literature brought them together, and the two wrote many scripts together which came to nothing; however, LEVRES DE SANG was an instance in which Rollin was able to find willing producers. Although Phillipe enjoyed success in several other starring roles besides LEVRES DE SANG, he stopped acting in movies in the seventies and went back to theatre because he did not like the ups and downs of acting- "being valued like a commodity", as he puts it. Phillipe also discusses LíINTINERAIRE MARIN, a project in which he participated, and says it will be Rollinís best film when it is completed.
This is followed by an interview with Serge Rollin, the directorís son. As a child, he wanted to know what making a film was like so Rollin not only took him on the set of LEVRES DE SANG, but also wrote him a small part. He describes the flashback scenes he played in and tells us that he took his small role very seriously- to the point where he was even heard by co-star Nathalie Perry rehearsing lines in his sleep. Serge says that those memories are dear to him. However, the experience did not launch an acting career. He later worked on other films with his father behind the cameras- he feels more at ease as a technician on a set than as an actor. He finds the most interesting part of filmmaking to be the editing room, especially before the age of video. Serge echoes the sentiments of many people who have worked with Rollin: "When youíre part of a team, shooting with Jean, youíre all friends."
The final interview is with Cathy Tricot, better know as Cathy Castel, one of the twins who appear in several Rollin films. She talks about wanting to act with her sister, Marie, when they were both young. A third party introduced them to Jean Rollin, knowing he would be interested in twins. However, they were still minors and their mother didnít approve. They were declared of age, and their mother could not stop them from working, but she requested that they not use the family name. Their first film was LA VAMPIRE NUE (1969). The first actor interviewed in this series to say anything other than praise for Rollin, Castel states: "I didnít think that Rollin could be such a bastard. He used to make his actresses work in the bitter cold, half naked. It was really horrible." However, moments later she says that she really enjoyed making LEVRES DE SANG- a "brilliant" movie. Castel candidly discusses the rivalry between the sisters, describing Marie as "narcissistic". She is just as candid about the X-rated movies she starred in after LEVRES DE SANG. The early years of porn were "great fun", after the shoot everyone was friends. Speaking further about the camaraderie between people in the porn scene, she says, "A sex scene is only a sex scene if you get on well with each other. Youíre enjoying yourself, but itís a professional job, too. Rounding out the extras on this disc, there is also a slideshow of production stills and screenshots set to the filmís theme.
DISC THREE contains more extras, starting with an audio commentary with Jean Rollin. As always, Rollin shares a great deal about the production of the film, hitting on details that only his most devoted fans might notice otherwise, while also providing numerous humorous anecdotes. As the opening credits roll, he points out the Rollin regulars that have small roles in LEVRES DE SANG- Mireille DíArgent, Nathalie Perry, the Castel twins, Paul Bisciglia, Willy Braque. The abandoned buildings on the streets where much of the action occurs where razed only minutes after filming was completed- bulldozers were literally waiting for them to finish shooting. Similarly, the cinema where Frederic sees the girl in white was the last theatre in town specializing in horror films- and the night after the scene was shot, it too surrendered to the porn craze and became an X-rated theatre. Although the poster for LA VAMPIRE NUE is seen posted in front of the theatre, they actually played LES FRISSONS DES VAMPIRES (1970) that night. The exit of the cinema was directly across from the entrance to Montmarte Cemetery- just as it appears in the film- making it a perfect location. Rollin explains that his attraction to cemeteries, which feature prominently in his films, is more about their monuments and visual interest than any morbid associations. One of the most interesting stories Rollin tells in this commentary concerns the history of the castle which is the main setting of the film. In real life, it was the site of decadent orgies, murders, and even a political assassination. LEVRES DE SANG is one of Rollinís most personal films. Not only does it take place partly on the beach that has fascinated him since childhood and at the aquarium which also captured his imagination as a boy, but it also includes scenes with his son, Serge. Many of the items in the white girlís tomb, including the photo albums and comic books, were personal keepsakes from Rollinís youth. The ending of the film- which Rollin considers one of his "most peculiar"- was largely improvised, as has been the case throughout his career. He is proud of the lyrical style of these scenes which were shot with no consideration towards continuity.
This disc also includes the very first release- on any format- of Rollinís first short film, LES AMOURS JAUNES: Evocation de Tristan Corbiere. This film was shot over the course of several weekends with cameras and film borrowed from Rollinís job at a television station. The director was barely twenty years old at this point, but the short film is still a sophisticated artistic piece which revealed much about what audiences would see from him in the future. The film consists of a poem recited in voiceover as a young man representing Tristan Corbiere wanders along the beach and interacts with a small cast of extras- two small children, a woman, and a dog. In the middle of the film the live footage is replaced with a montage of ink drawings, surreal sketches of devils, naked women, and ships. The overall effect Rollin achieves is as melancholy and poetic as any of his later works. The third disc ends with a handful of trailers for LEVRES DE SANG, LES DEMONIAQUES, and REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE. As did the previous ENCORE FILMED ENTERTAINMENT releases in the Jean Rollin series, this collectors edition includes a 64 page booklet of full color photos and an essay by Rollin on the making of the film. This one also includes the complete poem by Tristan Corbiere which is recited in LES AMOURS JAUNES. And, like the other releases by ENCORE FILMED ENTERTAINMENT, this is the definitive release of this film, LEVRES DE SANG, due to the shear volume and quality of extras on these discs. The sound and picture quality are excellent as usual. There have been some complaints on certain message boards about how this film was formatted. Some people feel that some scenes were cropped wrong, taking too much off the top of the screen. To this reviewer, the instances of this seemed few and were completely negligible- I might not have even noticed them had I not read the posts prior to seeing this release.
Story: 4/5 Bitch Slaps Extras: 5/5 Bitch Slaps Picture/Audio: 4.5/5 Bitch Slaps Overall DVD: 4.5/5 Bitch Slaps
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