[24 July 2014]
Dead women tied to bedposts can be found at the center of the hall-of-mirrors plots in these two popular hits from postmodern fetishist Alain Robbe-Grillet. In light of the female nudity, forgiving French audiences didn’t object to the teasing pseudo-narratives.
As himself, Robbe-Grillet rides on the titular train in Trans-Europ-Express, inventing and revising a narrative in which actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (also on the train as “himself”) plays a drug courier on an endless cycle of transfers and messages. Shot in gorgeous black and white, the movie borrows a page from Alphaville or Shoot the Piano Player in its cavalier mockery of pulpy plots. Amid the narrative feints, the filmmaker’s unconscious (or too conscious) fantasies rise to the surface as the story zeros in on a prostitute-spy (Marie-France Pisier), whose primary function is more femme fatality than femme fatale.
In the bonus interview, Robbe-Grillet explains that he liked Trintignant’s internal quality of distance from his own actions. Fast forward several years, and Trintignant is still running around in a trenchcoat in Successive Slidings of Pleasure, but now the focus is on the curiously affectless robotrix (Anicèe Alvina) accused of tying and stabbing her mannikin-esque roommate (Olga Georges-Picot).
The latter plays a remarkable dual role, while the former exhibits so many fabricated emotions and flashbacks that she could be playing multiple roles within one body. Everyone and everything feels like a projection of her own fantasies and malleabilities, as when she observes that her ostensibly male lawyer looks like the dead roommate, and everyone else thinks so too. She also invents tales of torture dungeons in her prison castle, and the film obligingly stages them. By the same token, she’s really a projection of the film’s own desires for narrative drive; like all “characters”, she’s invented by the film for its own purposes, a process anatomized in Trans-Europ-Express.
In this later film, the “narrative” exists as a series of gorgeous color images, edited via some random intuition into an impressionistic collage of moments. As Robbe-Grillet explains in the interview, the reason Trintignant’s scene repeats footage and movements in a cubist manner is simply that they shot several takes and he wanted to use them all! Cinema allows you to do that, he says. He also explains that the title implies the heroine’s increasingly subjective distancing into fantasy.
For Robbe-Grillet, the plastic and empirical qualities of film expose entirely subjective and unreal states, a state of mind invented through editing, motion, and the placings of mise-èn-scene. The results are disturbing, dizzying, and the opposite of dull, especially when you thrown in naked ladies. No wonder audiences showed up.