Directed by: Jean Rollin
Release date: 1968
This was the first Jean Rollin feature, though Le Viol du Vampire – to give it the French title – was not actually one feature film but a 30 minute short that had an extra portion shot and added to it to make it feature length. As such the plot (such as it is) is confusing, to say the least.
It was, however, the most successful film of the year in France that year. Imdb suggests this is because “of the events of May 1968 in Paris, French distributors, fearing for the box office, decided to freeze their activities until it went back to normal. As a result, no other new feature was released during that period apart from this one. Consequently, by lack of competitors, it became the most successful film of the year in France.”
However the events of Mai 68 led to a cultural shift towards a liberal France so perhaps the erotic nature of the film made this a perfect film for that time. Certainly Rollin thought it might capture the spirit of the summer – though at the time it perhaps did not seem to do for those who first viewed the film (it actually caused a riot).
The first part of the film is lyrical in its construction. We begin with a woman, on her a bat that, whilst it looked fairly real, was so stuffed it certainly fell into the realm of crap bat syndrome. We hear the voice of a man warning a woman that three people came, Brigitte (Solange Pradel), her boyfriend Mark and Thomas (Bernard Letrou). Thomas, she is warned, will try to cure them.
They must trust in Traybas – a vampiric idol that seems to speak to them. Actually the voice is that of the Lord of the Manor, who is manipulating the girls for his own ends. He has convinced them that they are the vampires of legend – to the point that they have the memories of events from two hundred years before.
We actually see the events of the past. One was pierced through the heart in a duel but, as her head was never taken, her three sisters were able to rescue her. One of the sisters was later caught in the sun but was saved by the fact that a mob had gouged her eyes out with a pitchfork. This was interesting – the fact that sunlight only effected the vampire via the eyes. It is a theme that Rollin would examine in other ways in Two Orphan Vampires.
Thomas believes the girls to be deluded and, as the film progresses, that seems to be the case with the girls able to die and the Lord of the Manor clearly manipulating events and setting a mob on the girls. Thomas, on the other hand, manages to change his mind and has one of the girls bite him and turn him. He claims that the vampirism is an illness and can be cured.
The section of the film ends up with Mark hunting down the girl and Thomas and shooting them dead on a beach. Of course, if the vampirism was an illness – a virus, say – this was acceptable and the film ended… but it didn’t. Rollin got the opportunity to extend the experience but, of course, he needed a story and most of his characters were dead.
We enter the world of a vampire queen (Jacqueline Sieger) and her robed vampire women. She has the Lord of the Manor killed for failing her and orders one of her minions to finish off Thomas and the girl – they must be killed in a way that would prevent them coming back.
The vampire minion is working against the queen and places the two in such a place where they are out of sight but under the pour of the Lord of the Manor’s blood so they can be revived. Why? Who knows. We are in a world of mad scientist experimentation, 60s boots, and psychedelic moments. The Queen has a mission, which seems to be true immortality for the vampires (what she meant by that was not answered), whilst her chief scientist looks for a cure behind her back.
Trying to explain what is going in is a little pointless, I can state that it all points towards a blood wedding (what ever that might be) under a giant crap bat. Why can’t I tell you what the plot is about? Because, in Rollin’s own words, “Once the film was edited, everybody (but me) had to face the fact that it was impossible to understand anything of it.”
The film is poetic and shows an eye for detail and photography that would shine in other Rollin productions. Many themes that Rollins would explore fully, later, begin to emerge and thus for the Rollin fan the film becomes important not only because it was the first of his films but because it actually started the journey his films have led us on.
The soundtrack is a wonderful improvised jazz piece and, I understand, much of the film itself was improvised also.
This is not a film for the casual viewer and it certainly wouldn’t be my recommendation of a starting point for those who want to discover Rollin’s work. Those who enjoy Rollin, however, will get something out of this. The lack of actual story pushes the points down, despite the fact that it is beautiful to look at and listen to. 4 out of 10.
The imdb page is here.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Directed by: Jean Rollin