Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Iron Rose (5 Stars)

"Don't worry. The dead are our friends. We'll find the way here, and only here".

This is my Halloween Challenge film #5. It was made in 1973 by the undisputed king of vampire films, Jean Rollin. That's what makes the film so remarkable: it was his first film that wasn't about vampires. This might have disappointed some of his fans, but the result is a gothic horror tale of immense proportions. It's hard to believe that the film went unnoticed on its original release. In fact, the film was considered to have been lost for years. The original film tapes were rediscovered at the beginning of the century, and the film has now been released by Redemption Films, a studio which is attempting to re-release all of Jean Rollin's horror films. I emphasise the word "horror". From 1976 to 1984 he made about a dozen sex films under a fake name to take advantage of the rise of popularity of home videos. From what I've been told, none of these films still exist in a quality suitable for re-release, and Jean Rollin's fans don't consider the films good enough to be remembered.

The film begins with a young woman walking on a deserted beach in northern France. An iron rose is washed onto the shore, which she picks up and examines, then throws back into the sea. Later on in the day she goes to a wedding in a desolate, half-destroyed town. It looks like a town that was heavily damaged in the Second World War, where the inhabitants were too poor to repair their houses, so most of them moved away.

At the wedding the woman meets a man, and they decide to see each other again the next day. The man and the woman aren't named. Names aren't important in a dark fairy tale like this. They go into a cemetery to take a picnic. They sit among the graves eating and watching the strange characters visiting the graves, including an old woman and a man dressed as a clown. Despite the woman's initial protests, the man takes her into a small underground crypt to have sex.

When they emerge it's already dark. They want to leave, but they can't find the way out. The seemingly small cemetery has become a sprawling maze. It reminds me of the maze that we see on the table top in "The Shining". When we view it from a distance it seems to be relatively small, but when we look closer it's an infinite maze with no way out. The couple stumble from one area to another. There are cheap graves with wooden crosses. There are normal graves with headstones. There are small crypts and large majestic crypts. There's a field with military graves, all arranged neatly in formation, with the general buried at the front. They find a building in the cemetery where they hope to find a caretaker, but the room is full of child-sized coffins. When they open one they find a body in it.

Even more appalling, there's a mass grave. The man stumbles into a pit, and he finds it full of skeletons. By this time he's panicking and is desperate to escape, but the woman is becoming calm, confounding the man with absurd logic. She thinks that the living are evil, but the dead are good, so they're in the right place. The living wage war, but the dead are peaceful. Instead of helping the man out of the pit she jumps in and starts to kiss him to persuade him to stay.

What's the significance of the small iron rose, which the woman finds waiting for her in the cemetery after previously throwing it away? I don't know. Ask David Lynch. So little of the film makes sense if we try to analyse it. It's a bizarre nightmare.

This is one of my favourite films. I consider it to be the best film ever made in the French language. I was amused to discover that it has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I say amused, because I usually disagree with the smart film critics referenced by the site. This time they got it right.

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