Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Iron Rose (France, 1973)


Aka La Rose de Fer. The movie opens with a typically intriguing 70s babe (Françoise Pascal, also found in Vernon Sewell's Burke & Hare [1972 / trailer] and Pete Walker's School for Sex [1969 / opening credits]) on a beach and a few other "mood" shots that do little other than to establish a languid atmosphere, with the possible exception of the scenes of an extremely bleak and depressingly run-down working class French town that are less languid than depressing and serve, in a way, as a foretaste confirming the later statements that "the dead are out there" (i.e., outside the graveyard in which most of the movie occurs).
Soon we are at a depressing marriage of ugly people in an ugly room in which the best-looking guests present, the girl (Pascal) and the boy (Hugues Quester as "Pierre Dupont", also of La ville des pirates [1983 / art]) make eyes for each other, he recites a poem, and later, in front of a castle in which the marriage party definitely did not occur, they make plans for their first date. Yes, at this point, The Iron Rose could well be on its way to being a very dull love story...
And thus it remains, up until the young and attractive couple pass a cemetery the next day while riding their bikes and decide to picnic there... and do more. Yep, Europe in the 70s had no three-date minimum, and not only that, it seems that the concept of screwing in cemeteries or crypts didn't really faze a woman enough to instigate more than one or two mild objections before taking off her clothes. And thus the young couple, she so demure and he with unsightly hair on his shoulder blades, spend a time so pleasant that they don't notice night has fallen — and once they finally decide to leave, it proves harder than anticipated....
One wonders how someone who is capable of making a movie like this one ever ended up directing Zombie Lake (1981 / trailer) — but like that film, which unlike this film is total trash, The Iron Rose is one of those special movies that separate the mice from the men, the art fairies from the lumberjacks, the Old Crow from Hudson Baby, the North from the South, your momma from your girlfriend, the Hustler reader from the Playboy reader...
We saw the movie within a relatively small circle of three and once the final frame flickered across the screen, two promptly said "What a piece of shit" and one (us) said "That was great." The Iron Rose tests your tastes and your limits, and even while we liked it like butter on toast or a woman who swallows, we can also easily believe that way back in 1973, after premièring at the 2nd Convention of Cinema Fantastique in Paris, the response was so negative that it took director Jean Rollin almost two years before he could again find backing for a project.
The Iron Rose, if you ignore his early shorts, was the first non-vampire movie that Jean Rollin was ever to make. In theory, like his earlier feature-length projects, The Iron Rose is also a horror film, but it is far less horror than it is simply dreamy, if in a nightmarish way. The plot of the movie can really be distilled down to a simple sentence: a young couple with an itch to scratch forget the time while they scratch their itch in a graveyard and then can't find their way out. In a sense, The Iron Rose is very much the horror movie that Franz Kafka never wrote.
There is a short interview of Jean Rollin on the German DVD that really casts absolutely no great light on the creation of the film. According to what he says, he and someone were under way in search of a location for a film of "particular tragedy" when they stumbled upon the cemetery that was to become the main location of the movie. Where and how and why they came upon the plot, as little as it is, is left unexplained, but seeing to what extent the poetry of the French poet Tristan Corbière is present in this movie, it would be safe to guess that his pre-surrealist symbolist poems must have helped plant the kernel that grew to The Iron Rose.
We, philistines that we are, will admit that though our eyes were always open and mesmerized to the screen, our ears tended close whenever poetry was spouted, as we tend to believe that (most) poetry is to be written, not read. Likewise, we were so enamoured by the images and visual tone of the movie — a tone emphasized by the on-occasion ethereal and on-occasion nightmarish score by Pierre Ralph — that we quiet often didn't bother listening to the dialogue, which in itself seemed often rather vacuous and, as such, when we did occasionally listen to it, served to underscore the dis-reality of the events.
 Score to The Iron Rose by Pierre Ralph:
More poetry than horror, less obviously exploitive that otherworldly, the pace of The Iron Rose is languorous and the narrative almost meandering. There are no scares and most of the movie seems concentrated on maintaining a level of aesthetic visuals that preclude shock or terror, though there is indeed more than one disturbing image — heavy petting amidst a bunch of real bones in a deep grave, for example, is not exactly a pleasant sight. At all times, even when tipping a bit into the dull, laughable or dilettantish, the film nevertheless conveys an oddly arty and surreal beauty that intrigues enough to keep your attention — assuming you like oddly arty and surreal movies.
As an odd and macabre slice of cinematic surrealism in which the two stars almost become second figures to the movie's setting, the graveyard, The Iron Rose works both as a mood piece and a visual treat despite some glaring flaws, the biggest being a sloppiness in continuity (blouses get ripped and dirty and clean with no respect of continuity, for example), an obviously bare-bone budget, and some truly uneven acting. Rollin tosses in an occasional wink-of-the-eye to the viewer by drawing attention to his own intentional contrivance — via a man dressed as Dracula entering a crypt, a clown paying respects at a grave, and he himself as glaring man walking past — and he also tosses an extended totally gratuitous nude scene of the delectable Françoise Pascal on a beach as she recites poetry, possibly a reflection of some hallucination in her already unhinged mind, but within the slow but steady flow of the offbeat movie everything manages to jell. The extended incompetent "modern" dance scenes at the end perhaps could have been shortened, as its excessive length does verge on being an insult to the viewer, but then by the time the girl starts prancing around she is so unhinged that it is imaginable she might truly not get bored pretending to be Isadora Duncan for hours on end.
 More music from The Iron Rose:
The Iron Rose is a film to be approached with caution. We here at A Wasted Life found it truly grand, a mesmerizingly beautiful, surreal and at times unsettling film, but we can easily see that it is anything but fit for mass consumption. So, if you know who you are, you already know whether or not The Iron Rose is a movie you want to see.
The movie, by the way, is dedicated to the French actor and regular Jean Rollin collaborator René-Jean Chauffard, who had died the previous year. Among other films, he can be found in Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses (1960 / trailer), Jean-Pierre Bastid's Hallucinations sadiques (1969) and Rollin's The Nude Vampire (1970 / trailer) — arty films, one and all.

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