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March 27, 2014

L'Immortelle

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Alain Robbe-Grilet - 1963
Redemption / Kino Classics BD Region A

I have some very vague memories of seeing L'Immortelle back in 1969, in New York City. It was at the Bleecker Street Cinema, part of a series of films distributed by the publisher, Grove Press, with a series of films more or less as avant-garde as some of the novels they had published. I had no memories of Francoise Brion cavorting in a bustier and stockings, but retained images of a series of point of view shots, driving a night, on a tree lined road.

I'm not going to share Robbe-Grillet's interpretation of what the story is about. You can choose to find that out in the interview that is included with the disc. But Robbe-Grillet also stated that "art does not necessarily have to signify anything". I find that to be a liberating thought in that it does free the viewer to make up their own mind about what is on the screen.

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A French professor in Istanbul encounters a beautiful woman who appears and disappears from his life. He's not sure of her name, has no idea where she lives, or why she demands to be elusive. To have a better handle on this film, I think it important to have some familiarity the French Roman Nouveau, the literary movement that included Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, and Jean Cayrol, among others. As described by Thomas Kendall in his overview: "The 'world' in the Nouveau Roman novels is stripped of symbol, reduced to prosaic evidence and yet irreducibly strange and bewildering. It suggests a lineage with mythology, in which the hero is always cast into a reality beyond rational comprehension. The estrangement engendered by the Nouveau Roman is not to be equated with an Existentialist sense of alienation but rather something older, more profound, dream like."

As a narrative filmmaker, Alain Resnais first made films in collaboration with the two best known Nouveau Roman authors, and transposed some of the literary ideas into their cinematic equivalents. There a couple of moments in Robbe-Grillet's debut feature that resemble scenes from Last Year at Marienbad. Even more deliberately, Robbe-Grillet ignores the rules of traditional narrative film.

There is a kind of dream logic at work here. Images are sometimes linked by gestures. Characters appear in different settings. There is also the repetition of sounds, notably a sharp whistle, and the barking of a dog. There are times when Jacques Doniol-Valcroze seems to be observing himself. When Francoise Brion tells Doniol-Valcroze that the Istanbul that they are visiting is really a dream, she may well be telling the audience as well. The supplemental interview is interesting in pointing out that there was a time when film producers knowingly took artistic and commercial risks. Robbe-Grillet also discusses what he sees as his films shortcomings. What is most interesting to me about L'Immortelle is that it stands as the first attempt by a writer, whose works have been described as cinematic well before he collaborated with Resnais, to apply his theories of literature onto the screen.

Posted by peter at March 27, 2014 08:16 AM