Monday, 12 December 2016

The Iron Rose (5 Stars)


Se mourant en someil, il se vivait en rêve.
Son rêve était le flot qui montait sur la grève,
Le flot qui descendait, tes yeux dans ces yeux,
Tes lèvres sur cette lèvre.
C'est à toi que je fis mes adieux à la vie,
À toi qui me pleuras, jusqu'à me faire envie
De me pleurer moi-meme.



Dying in his sleep, he lived in his dreams,
His dream was the tide flowing onto the beach,
The tide flowing out, your eyes in those eyes,
Your lips on that lip.
It is to you that I said farewell to life,
You who mourned me so much
That I wanted to mourn myself.



This is a short excerpt from "Le poète contumace", a poem written by Tristan Corbière, who lived from 1845 to 1875 in the Brittany region of France. In his short life he wrote only one book of poetry, and he didn't become popular until after his death. He is now recognised as one of France's greatest poets, despite the relatively small amount he wrote, and he had a great influence on poets in France and abroad, including T. S. Elliott. His poems are full of surrealism, morbidity and dark humour. They're difficult to translate adequately, which has led to several different translations being published in English.

Tristan Corbière
18 July 1845 – 1 March 1875
The poem is recited at a wedding reception, and it sets the tone for the film. It's bizarrely inappropriate to speak about dying and being mourned at a wedding. The wedding guests applaud politely, but they're obviously confused by what they've heard. The young man who recites the poem isn't named in the film, but I find it fitting to call him Tristan. He has a destiny which is leading him to an early death. He admits later that he only recited the poem to win the attention of a woman sitting in the room. Her name is Carine, which means pure.


The two arrange to meet the following day. First they spend time running around the train station, one of the few places still intact in the desolate, ruined town. Then they visit the cemetery, expecting it to be quiet and empty. It's difficult for them to find peace together. They're disturbed by a man in a vampire costume, an old woman laying flowers, a clown and a sinister man dressed as a monk who stands staring at them. The monk is played by the director Jean Rollin himself.

Jean Rollin
3 November 1938 – 15 December 2010
The only way Tristan and Carine can be alone is by descending into a crypt, where they awkwardly make love on the cold stone floor. Destiny, destiny, no escaping destiny! This is the last short period of happiness in Tristan's short life.


When they emerge from the crypt it's already dark. They try to leave, but the small cemetery has turned into an enormous labyrinth of tombs, graves and burial mounds. They stumble from one field of graves into another. Whenever they think they're close to the exit they find themselves back where they started. In his panic Tristan becomes violent. He hits Carine and rips her clothing. Just as quickly his mood turns and he begs her to help him.


Will Carine help him? She bears him no malice. She's too pure to want to hurt him, but the help she offers isn't what he expects. She's decided that the two of them should remain in the cemetery forever. That's the only place they can live happily together.


"The Iron Rose" is Jean Rollin's fifth film, made in 1973. I know that it's only two months since I last watched it, but I had to return to it. It's one of the best films ever made. It's a shame that the film has been so poorly maintained. I've used snapshots that are relatively clean, but large portions of the film show signs of wear and tear, especially the opening scenes. The remastered Blu-ray is slightly better than the previous DVD release, but only slightly. The film was considered lost until a tape was found 15 years ago.

This is a masterpiece of cinema. The atmosphere is dark and overbearing, like the poems of Tristan Corbière. When you watch it you're drawn into a world of silent terror. Jean Rollin may be remembered for his vampire films, but this is his most brilliant work of art.

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