Sunday, 10 May 2020

Successive Slidings Of Pleasure

Tether Report

Successive Slidings Of Pleasure
France 1974 Directed by  Alain Robbe-Grillet
BFI DVD Region 2

I’ve already reviewed two films by Alain Robbe-Grillet on this site... Eden And After (here) and Gradiva (here). He also wrote the wonderful movie Last Year In Marienbad but that one didn’t highlight his themes of sexual fetish as much as those two above, at least not as overtly as he does in films like this one.

I do find the films he directs himself a bit wearing on the brain and hard going at times, in spite of his content and this one is similarly hard to penetrate. It’s interesting to note, actually that he’s considered one of the French New Wave these days (as opposed to when I used to read about him) because the tactics he uses in this film to make the viewer aware all the time that he is watching a man made piece of art as opposed to something which one should immerse oneself in absolutely fits in with the aesthetic of the man who I think of as being the absolute father figure of the Nouvelle Vague, Jean-Luc Godard. Indeed, the very few pieces of Michel Fano’s score in the movie are mostly used to heighten the viewers awareness in contrast to the images and reminded me of the use of music in Godard’s Contempt (Le Mépris).

So the opening credits sequence of Successive Slidings Of Pleasure, where dislocated shots which are, it transpires, excerpted from the main feature are assembled almost hap-hazardly with mismatching sounds such as shattered glass, gun shots and images of actors looking directly into the screen from different situations, cross cut with images of things like spilled egg yolks, really pushes home the fact that, as an audience member, you are not going to be in for a passive time here. Nor indeed a totally coherent one, it has to be said, because there is no real story development or logic to the film, although it hangs around the plot frame of a woman called Nora (played by Olga Georges-Picot) tied to a bed naked by her girlfriend and main protagonist/antagonist Alice (played by Anicée Alvina), who then paints patterns on her. Nora is then found with Alice, with scissors impaling her heart after her death 'in situ' and Alice is then locked in a convent (which includes a handy dungeon) and interrogated by various ‘visitors’ who, as she unfolds events in an almost but, not quite, entirely illogical manner, seduces each of her visitors in one way or another and enacts various sexy things such as painting her own naked body.

What you have to understand though is that the minimalistic, inappropriate sets and the complete non-sequitur responses sometimes of the people who are, on the surface, trying to get to the bottom of the events of this young, alleged murderess are huge indicators that this is just the directors game. No realism is intended. Indeed, the heightened, stylised form of acting (reminiscent sometimes of Hal Hartley’s movies) and the carefree attitude of the two lovers in flashback, as they cut up and bloody a mannequin on the beach when they are not being prostitutes and murdering clients, gives the film a slightly surreal attitude which undermines any attempt to decode the main text in any way other than as a redundant part of the narrative thread, such as it is.

It’s simply not believable as something to be taken that seriously and scenes where, for instance, Alice breaks eggs over Nora’s nude body for a bit before covering her in wine and investigating her crotch with her foot certainly push the film into an almost erotic mood... which is often killed by the absurdity of the responses from various characters... many of whom are taking their ‘story arc’ very seriously. If you want to see Michael Lonsdale, who played Bond villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker, doing something totally different to what you’d expect from him... as his character slowly seems to go insane with obsession to ‘crack the case’ after he’s sucked Alice’s foot 'to remove blood from it'... then you might want to check this one out. Other famous actors in this are Jean-Louis Trintignant and a very young Isabelle Huppert (who, even though I knew she was in it, I still couldn’t recognise).

One thing that is present in the movie is the director’s eye for a good shot. I’ve already said that the majority of the sets are quite simplistic, with barely any set dressing and I believe this is a deliberate play to emphasise the fake nature of the so called plot but he does make things look visually attractive throughout... in addition to the obvious enhancement of several naked women draped over the sets in various scenes of course. So quite often he will be sectioning areas of space for characters to balance against but, in this one, he often has two styles of sectioning combined into the same shot...

So he might have vertical sections on the right part of the screen offset with the chequered frame of a window dominating the left of the screen. or he’ll have different levels of rooms manifesting as open doorways (an old Roger Corman trick) or as an angular look down and across to a spiral stairway adding a different depth to that part of the frame. Indeed, he even has one shot with a curly, iron bed head with Alice peering through different parts of it in front of the camera and constantly shifting so her eyes are perfectly framed in the twirly bits (a technical term). It all looks splendid and, indeed, if it does get just a little pretentious and dull in places, the visual splendour of the shot design often more than makes up for it.

And that’s me done on Successive Slidings Of Pleasure I think. I bought this as one of those ‘add on at the counter’ DVDs when I was in Fopp and got this for just £3. I don’t regret it and I may, I guess, even watch it again some day. It’s not something I would lightly recommend to most casual film viewers but if you have a passion for decoding visual and textual layers which appear to support each other but are really saying contrasting things then you might want to give this one a go. I might try another one of his in another year or two, I think.

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