Alain Robbe-Grillet  



Experimental and intellectual writer and film-maker who is part of the 'nouveau roman' (new or anti-novel) trend. He discards narratives and instead likes to delve into the metaphysics of a story and its details, descriptions and structure, letting ideas and stories develop indirectly through such explorations. It's as if he were telling a story through fragments of memory, subjective ambiguity, and scraps of information loosely linked to each other, repeating and cross-referenced. The focus of his movies is on the structure and cogs of the mystery rather than the story itself and he also likes to challenge the basic elements of the story and contradict everything in order to break up conventional storytelling. The resulting films are avant-garde, extremely non-linear and often impenetrable (one exception is Trans-Europ-Express, an amusing self-aware crime film where characters create their own movie). His first five creations explored and abstracted the elements of mysteries through memory, relative truth, imagination, lies, and drugs/illusions respectively. After that, Robbe-Grillet gradually developed slightly more audience-friendly movies with eroticism and interesting cinematography. Sometimes works with Alain Resnais and is usually known for writing Last Year in Marienbad. Died in 2008.

Recommended

Beautiful Prisoner, The  
An exercise in blending fantasy, art and reality using an erotic thriller as a backdrop. This fetish of a movie doesn't develop a plot but focuses on objects, pieces of events and memories, and fantasy women, all inspired by tantalizing paintings by Rene Magritte and recreating their effect on our brains and perceptions. A man is sent on a mission by a mysterious woman in leather on a motorcycle. He meets another beautiful, strange, nameless woman in a bar who may be an angel, ghost or vampire and becomes the source of many fantasies and day-dreams. He finds her bleeding in the street, her hands tied, and takes her to a strange villa occupied by a cult of perverts. The plot thickens and grows more puzzling as he starts doing some detective work. Sexual obsession, mystery, murder, and art are played with using various cinematic tricks, using the motif of art capturing and bleeding into reality. Paintings become alive, appear as part of a scene and change real life, etc. A fascinating experiment, typically abstract and segmented for Robbe-Grillet but also visually rich, at times comparable to Greenaway.

Of Some Interest

Blue Villa, The  
A man who may be a ghost seems to be visiting a Greek island (does anything normal ever happen on Greek islands in movies?) to see a girl who may have been killed in the past, who may be staying at a strange bordello, and who is the daughter of a man who may be imagining all of this or projecting some kind of guilt. A police inspector tries to make heads or tails out of this mystery. Visions, dialogue and snippets of detail repeat and interweave while Chinamen play mah-jhong and reshuffle the pieces until they are replaced with other characters. Yet another impenetrable but almost dull deconstructive puzzle by Robbe-Grillet, directing by rote, repeating the same old routine of his previous movies.

It's Gradiva Who Is Calling You  
His last movie, an erotic fantasy with some recycled elements from previous movies (especially Eden and After and Successive Slidings). John Locke is an art historian in Morocco, fascinated by several paintings and drawings of the female figure and face. He gets entangled in a web of shady antique dealers, mysterious clubs that cater to sado-masochistic clients, an elusive mysterious woman who becomes more and more ghostly and appears in different guises and personalities, and alternate fantasy-lives that mix with his reality. That obscure object of desire, woman, is used often as erotic symbol, victim, slave, powerful entity, his assistant-cum-mistress both cheeky and submissive, and the female body shown in various poses and as a bloody victim of torture and murder. A murder which may or may not have taken place in the past/present/future. Not as abstract and interesting as his other works and therefore disappointing.

Man Who Lies, The  
In this early experiment, Robbe-Grillet explores a war thriller as told by a man who seems to be a paranoid, delusional pathological liar. He comes into town with tall tales of his daring adventures, prison escapes, secret spy stuff and chases with the Germans who, according to him, have taken over the town. Some of it may be truth, or not, as he keeps changing or embellishing his story when he is confronted by different people. Reality sometimes seems to conform to his stories, but usually not. He also tends to die often only to start another tale. The women to whom he tells snippets of his adventures seem skeptical, but then play along and are soon behaving like spies amongst German soldiers. Like Immortelle, this one starts to get a little tedious after you figure it out, but Robbe-Grillet has more fun with this one, using random scenes where the women pose artistically or play strange games, pictures come to life, people appear out of nowhere to conform with the man's paranoia, reality changes as the lies change, and there's even some light slapstick with the Germans.

Playing With Fire  
Robbe-Grillet dangles a more developed narrative in front of our eyes in this one, only to deconstruct and contradict it with his usual bag of tricks, making this movie more disorienting than usual. A girl is kidnapped and put in a basket, her father gets ransom instructions and proof, but the proof turns out to be a silly trick and the girl is in her room. Loud noises and explosions with ominous music turn out to be nothing, people in bowler hats appear and make complicated but empty threats, characters interchange, complex facts, clues and motives turn out to be dead ends or change to something else, the family may or may not be involved and the abducters may suddenly seem like victims of circumstance, there are amusing random abductions of women, even brides, who are brought to a bizarre house where women seem to be sex slaves locked away, with their photographs and keys that signify... nothing? And so on. The very facts of a thriller are taken apart and toyed with in clever, amusing ways and the poor police have to figure out if a crime was even committed. Chauvinistic erotica Robbe-Grillet style with lots of nudity and men that discuss and control the fate of these women in absurd ways, but your brain is too confused to get turned on. One of his most entertaining creations.

Successive Slidings of Pleasure  
Pulp murder-mystery-erotica made arthouse as filtered through a fetish film-maker and seen through venetian blinds, with the same incomplete set of puzzle pieces repetitively filmed with variations. A seductive girl, a murder of her room-mate, a detective, clergy and lawyer seduced and intrigued by the possible murderess who keeps getting naked and who may have supernatural powers. The victim is painted on with colors, wine, liquids, blood; She becomes a canvas, a victim, a mannequin, bodies are used for painting, nudity, poses, victims, artistic bondage with blood. Repetitive objects and clues include broken bottles, a bed-frame and a shoe. This is Robbe-Grillet deconstructing the death of a woman on screen with some surreal touches and spiced with lesbian erotica.

Worthless

Eden and After  
An LSD trip rather than anything intellectual. A group of students go to the Eden club where they play bizarre and cruel games including fake Russian Roulette, strange rituals, rape, blood-drinking and poison, until a mysterious stranger appears and ups the ante. After a bloody magic trick, he provides an African drug to a girl who sees a montage of fearful images and then slowly appears to live them, wandering into a strange fluid factory and into a postcard of Tunisia, where murders, S&M sex, dancing and a nonsensical plot of kidnapping and torture in order to locate a painting take place. The film is an experience, a reality created by illusions, hallucinations and drugs, with bizarre visuals and details emerging little by little as some images develop into scenes, albeit incoherent ones. Not at all intellectually stimulating like his other movies.

Immortelle, L'  
Robbe-Grillet's debut is a tentative but ultimately tedious and unrewarding experiment, exploring themes and structures that were covered much better in Beautiful Prisoner and Marienbad. A man arrives in Turkey, meets a mysterious woman, interacts with the locals, trying to figure out what the people and city are all about, and who the woman is. When a fatal car accident occurs, things get even more confusing. The mystery doesn't develop but is metaphysically explored instead. A man thinks he has figured out something only to be constantly contradicted by the people he questions. Scenes are fragmented, pieces of the movie edited together with variations, people and objects appear and disappear. Strange exotic locations are used that only seem to be one thing but turn out to be more lies, facades and fakeries. In other words, our perception of objects, women and events and the facts, impressions and sources that they are based on are all deconstructed endlessly and repeatedly. This is interesting for about 20 minutes but not more. Tedious masturbatory intellectualism.

N. Took the Dice  
A reshuffling of Grillet's Eden and After, the title an anagram of that movie, and the scenes rearranged in a similar random fashion as an experiment to see what new story or structure emerges. A man narrates, throws the dice, and we see the random scenes associated with the throw, mixed with several out-takes from that movie as new details emerge. In particular, scenes of the students in the club are spliced with the hallucinatory and fantasy scenes in Tunisia to draw parellels. That's the theory. In practice, this is a nonsensical movie made even more nonsensical in an exercise of pure whim, experimentation and curiosity.




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