Jean Rollin is one of those well-known names to genre fans who go one level deeper than your (slightly) more genre household names like Argento or Jorodorowsky. Somehow, I've compromised my cinema card by never having seen a single one of his many films.
Naturally, I decided to amend that by starting with what, by all accounts, is the least Rollin joint out there.
Quick Plot: A pretty young woman without a name wanders through rural France, eventually settling down to witness a provincial wedding. There she meets a fellow party guest who is instantly taken with her. They agree to go on a bike ride the next day, as all French first dates go. After flirtatiously roaming around an old train station, they park their wheels outside a sprawling cemetery, aka, the perfect picnic spot.
I say that without irony: this cemetery is gorgeous. Covered in wrought iron fencing and ancient tombstones artistically sprouting moss, the setting is true painting onscreen and cinematographer Jean-Jaques Renon's camera absorbs it in full. After some dilly dallying around the graveyard with coy talks about death and souls, the young lovers sneak into a crypt to consummate their new relationship. When they come up for air, the sun has set, leaving only some haunting moonlight to help them navigate what now seems to be an inescapable purgatory.
Rollin made his name on vampires and full fleshed eroticism, neither of which are explicitly present in The Iron Rose. That is not to say, however, that The Iron Rose is fully lacking either.
As ‘the girl,’ Francoise Pascal has one of those deceptively ethereal presences that ups the ante once The Iron Rose hits its turning point (although ‘turning point’ is an odd phrase to use in a surreal film). Dressed in a sunny yellow schoolgirl outfit, Pascal plays the part of the typically reluctant date freaked out by cemeteries, only to gradually transform into a death-courting dancer of seduction. While The Iron Rose is fairly chaste (especially compared to Rollin’s usual output), the chemistry between the leads lends the film an ominous sensuality that seems to be just waiting to turn into something truly dangerous.
Maybe I’m just saying that because this film includes a clown in a cemetery.
The Iron Rose is unlike any film I’ve ever seen. While it drops hints about its more surreal leaning early on, the fairly straightforward narrative is masterful in lulling us into a story we can expect and understand. The transition into something unknown is handled incredibly well, as Rollin does such a powerful job in using the location to suggest something amiss. He’s greatly aided by Pascal and her slow descent into...well, SOMETHING.
I won’t say that I fully understood The Iron Rose or truly got what Rollin was going for, but it made for a fascinating and one-of-a-kind watch. This is the kind of film I could see myself revisiting some time down the line and getting something completely different from it on second viewing. It’s certainly worth the try.
Goodness is this a pretty place to set a subtly surreal love story/horror movie/philosophical surreal game or whatever it is that I just watched
...especially when you factor in Pierre Raph’s masterfully haunting score
While it feels right to not quite understand the female's constant change of spirits, her partner seems to be posed as the straight man. You would then think that his story would serve as the sort of audience surrogate, but the character's turns never seems to register. It's just a choice that I don't quite understand.
Bodies stop decomposing if it's not damp
A sudden turn-on to the bones of young children is generally not a good portent for your relationship
It's obvious, but how can we ignore it: don't, I repeat don't, have sex in a graveyard. If Bloody Birthday couldn't teach you that, maybe this can
I don’t know that The Iron Rose was the best place to begin my Jean Rollin education as it doesn’t necessarily represent his more well-known trademarks, but I found the film truly fascinating on its own. Sure, it’s slow-moving and nonsensical, but that is clearly part of its point. The film is currently on Netflix Instant along with quite a few other Rollin titles. I’m excited to see more.