Thorn Of The Dead
The Iron Rose (La Rose De Fer)
Directed by Jean Rollin
Redemption Region 1
Well this is going to be a pretty short review.
I’ve noted on more than one occasion my respect for the writer/director Jean Rollin, who is perhaps best remembered for the spate of surrealist French lesbian vampire movies he gave the world. A true under-appreciated poet of cinema. I recently reviewed his film The Nude Vampire here and discovered it to be another little gem. I’d never seen that or The Iron Rose before and I expressed how much I was looking forward to seeing it.
Well, now that I have, it has to be said that I thought it was the least interesting of the works I’ve seen by him and, frankly, I found it a hard movie to watch. Starting off with a strong scene which made me groan because, once again, it uses a quite strikingly beautiful actress, Françoise Pascal, on Rollin’s favourite beach (yeah, you know the one), and a credit sequence set to a beautiful shot of a young couple kissing on the front of a train, the film then takes us to a crowded wedding reception where a thin, young man recites poetry to catch the eye of the aforementioned, beauty.
After this, the two go on a date and it pretty much, apart from the occasional passer by (such as a clown) becomes a two hander as the protagonists go into a cemetery to eat their picnic, which mostly seems to consist of chocolate, and then descend into a tomb to make love. When they come up for air, night has fallen and it’s here that the film takes on a certain Bunuelian flavour... and when I say that I’m thinking specifically about the impossibility of trying to find a way out of an artificially induced situation like the guests not being able to leave the house in The Exterminating Angel (reviewed here). For, once our sexed up couple leave the tomb, they find it impossible to find their way back out of the cemetery. They are not just locked in, they are caught up in a recurring loop of M. C. Esher-like proportions, coming across the same terrain again and again, even when they go over the wall.
Okay, I admit the movie sounds really interesting, but for some reason this one just didn’t appeal to me. Perhaps it’s because, unlike most of Rollin’s films, it has a storyline (no matter how simple and one note) that you can follow... whereas I’m more used to seeing a Jean Rollin that is mostly impenetrable and which has great and beautiful surrealistic shots which you will remember forever. Here though, I think the shots are merely both really colourful and competent... but with very few standout sequences, apart from the girl naked on a “beach representation” of the cemetery near the end. That’s quite striking but a minor oasis in a desert of dullness as far as I’m concerned... and I really don’t like to say this about Rollin’s work.
There’s an interesting vocal, experimental piece on the soundtrack reminiscent of something György Ligeti or Edgard Varese might have done at some stage in their careers but this really doesn’t give the visuals the lift they need and, in the end, I have to admit I was just waiting for it to finish (I may have started to nod off at some point).
At the end of the day, it’s a well shot but not great Jean Rollin movie. If you’re a fan of this director’s work, and I really am, then you’re going to want to watch this one anyway. This is the first time I had a truly, less than stunned reaction to his work, although Two Orphan Vampires came close. I’m not going to let this put me off tracking down some of the movies I still haven’t seen by him though... but I would warn you to not expect too much from this one and approach cautiously. It’s been called, by one reviewer I respect a lot, Rollin’s first true masterpiece. I disagree with that one, I’m afraid, but that doesn’t mean that you would. Rollin is always worth a look even when he’s churning out stuff like this, is my view. But if you’ve never seen any of his movies before... I really wouldn’t start off with this one.