TWILIGHT made buckets of money this past weekend, and while I don't wish the film any ill will, I do intend to ride out this wave by taking refuge with some more daring, subversive vampire film. Who better to go to than Jean Rollin, the subversive French film-maker who made great contributions to the reinvention of the vampire in the 1970s? In THE VAMPIRE CINEMA, David Pirie suggests that Jean Rollin takes "the vampire out of a narrative context and plac[es] it in an essentially visual frame of reference." Even as he gives Pirie gives Rollin serious critical consideration, Pirie ultimately suggests that the lack of narrative structure marks a certain weakness in his films, making them somewhat inferior to, say, Harry Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS. However, I find myself returning much more often to Rollin's films, most recently Lèvres de sang (known as LIPS OF BLOOD to Yanks like me.)
Arguably, Rollin focuses more on narrative here than he does in many of his other films. Rollin foregrounds childhood and innocence with a narrative that begins with a photograph of tower ruins by the seaside. This photograph calls forth memories in the protagonist, leading him to remember a mysterious, waifish woman imprisoned in the tower. He grants her a brief escape before she becomes just a vague, bittersweet memory. The rest of the film documents his quest to find the elusive tower and, effect, his childhood.
The whole film comes across as a unspooled fairy tale, complete with archetypes like a "terrible mother" and "shadow figures" in the form of female vampires awakened by the protagonist's desires. In fact, the vampires appear simultaneously lethal and pitiful in the film, just as the protagonist's quest to recover his childhood appears paradoxically as a dangerous sort of innocence, leading to unpleasant revelations about his own family.
Rollin uses stunning imagery here, including the seaside images he favors in all his films. The Kinoeye web page includes some excellent Jean Rollin resources that come highly recommended.
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