Monday, January 29, 2007

Fiancée of Dracula – review


Directed by: Jean Rollin

Release Date: 2002

Contains spoilers

This, the last Jean Rollin film listed on imdb, may prove one of the most difficult to review and, as I sit and type I do so with trepidation. The film very much, in my opinion, demands knowledge of the previous films of Rollin and the symbolism contained within. It feels very much like a culmination of his previous work, an ending as such or perhaps a summit.

There is a story within the film, simplistic in some respects and yet rich but the film also represents mortal madness, as we are faced with the supernatural, and so much of the story is hidden within symbolism. Many of the Rollin favourites are here, clocks acting as portals between universes, the beach representing the boundary between worlds and the outcasts, or as they are called in this parallels. With a good grounding in the man’s movies there is much to be gained, though one fears that if someone watched this straight without knowledge of his back catalogue they may become a little lost.

The film begins in a cemetery with two men watching it; they are the Professor (Jacques Orth) and his assistant Eric (Denis Tallaron). They wait for a vampire (Sandrine Thoquet) and her lover. After visitors to a grave leave we see the lover enter the graveyard, he is the jester hat wearing dwarf Triboulet (Thomas Smith) – the character is so called in the English subtitles but referred to as Thibault in the imdb listings.

Sandrine Thoquet as the vampireHis lover emerges from her tomb and comes to him. She is the very picture of a Rollin vampire, white shrouded and pale of skin with fiercely red hair. Triboulet allows her to feed from him and then she disrobes and lays upon a grave for him. The men grab the dwarf and accuse him of being one of the parallel creatures, who serve the Master – the Master being Dracula (Thomas Desfosse). The Professor attempts to hypnotise him but then relies on the threat that if he does not speak they will open his lover’s tomb to the sun and allow her to fry. Triboulet tells them to go to the Tower of the Damned and he will find the parallels there.

It is interesting to note that the vampire does not move during all this, waiting patiently for her lover. The Professor and Eric seem uninterested in her, they search for Dracula. Perhaps it is because that, at this point at least, she may be undead but she is no threat. She is sustained by the willing sacrifice of her lover’s blood.

They reach the tower, a broken ruin, and find a girl (Magalie Madison) being taunted by children. Cyrille Iste as Isabelle the Queen of ShadowsShe is described by Eric as the village idiot but the Professor believes her mind is absent as it traverses fantasy lands in which they might find their quarry. He hypnotises her and eventually guides her to talk of the Master. The only one who can find him is the Queen of Shadows – a woman we later discover to be called Isabelle (Cyrille Iste). She is the one who has been chosen to be the fiancée of Dracula and, telepathically, she has been driven mad by the Master and is in the care of the Order of the White Virgin in Paris. As they leave we see the girl exclaim that when night falls she shall become the Ogress.

The two witchesThe house in which the nuns of the order look after Isabelle might be a beautiful town house but it has become a bedlam. Her madness is infectious and has turned the minds of the nuns. We descend into a surreal madness at this point and I do not wish to describe the story further, it is a voyage of insane discovery. What I will say is that the Professor wants the woman to lead them to Dracula, complicated by the fact that Eric falls in love with her, and that the parallels, which include a male and female witch (Bernard Musson and She-Wolf licks blood from the vampireNathalie Perry) and the She-Wolf (Brigitte Lahaie), wish her to go through the ceremony of betrothal (which includes the sacrifice of three nuns) in order that they may be led to the Master and thus facilitate his escape, from another part of the order on an island somewhere (more insane nuns).

Thomas Desfosse as DraculaWhat I do wish to look at in more depth is what Rollin did with vampirism. Dracula is actually a minor player, he only appears occasionally and, because he is trapped, this is in a visionary form through the medium of clocks. We do see him in sunlight but this is because he is in the parallel world of the supernatural. We also know that he can connect with the minds of others and drive them insane (with his evil, one character says).

Ogress is shotThe majority of the vampirism is seen through the female vampire. At one point the Professor and Eric are faced with the ogress, who lives on the flesh of babies, and Eric shoots her. Though she is dying she wishes to witness the Master’s return and manages to drag herself to the place of sacrifice.

feeding on Ogress replenishes her lifeShe finds the vampire and asks her to give her strength and so the vampire bites her in a very well shot, protracted vampire bite sequence. The reason for mentioning this is normally that would be a scene where the vampire drains the victim of their life but, with the ogress, as the vampire feeds the ogress is filled with life. It is a strange, unexplained, reversal and probably has much to do with how Rollin perceives the world of the Parallel.

blindfold protects from the sunThe vampire also gets caught by the rising sun and so is helped to hide in a well by Triboulet. Later she is summoned to the island where Dracula is kept prisoner and Triboulet worries that the sun will destroy her. He is told not to be concerned as her eyes are covered. This is pure Rollin-logic, the vampire unable to see the sun is unaffected by the sun. She walks, arms outstretched, blind (which brings to mind the changes in lore Rollin introduced in Two Orphan Vampires) and crying for the night.

burning upLater she is tied like a naked figurehead to the front of a ship, her eyes not blindfolded, and the rising sun burns her – showing that the sun does have a destructive effect upon the undead.

This seems to be Rollin with budget, the effects are good and the locations as strange and beautiful as one would expect. The only really jarring effect was the suicide of Triboulet, when the vampire burns, which was a Vampire hunts nunhalf-hearted hara-kiri that left no blood on the knife! The soundtrack is marvellous and there was something rather compelling about Cyrille Iste’s performance. In a negative sense the story is rather hidden within the symbolism which may well put off many viewers, especially those of a casual nature. Those looking for a Dracula movie will be bitterly disappointed; the character is a cipher, little more than a plot symbol which the main players orbit and not a main character in any traditional sense.

This film is definitely for the fan of Rollin but it is a marvellous journey into his world. 7 out of 10 – if you like your Jean Rollin movies.

The imdb page is here.

No comments: