Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Iron Rose (1973)

Though the French filmmaker Jean Rollin might be known to the casual cinephile more for his erotic vampire films, his little-known 1973 film The Iron Rose (La Rose de Fer) is instead a very surreal, macabre and poetic film that addresses Rollins’ penchant for darkly introspective films. The Iron Rose definitely appealed to my gothic sensibilities, but its slow pace and focus on visuals instead of plot it won’t appeal to everyone.

A young couple decides to explore an old cemetery after a long day of bicycling through the French countryside. The two just met at a wedding reception the night before but waste no time in descending into a crypt for some hanky-panky. When the come up for air, they realize that night has fallen. In the dark, the cemetery becomes a very foreboding place and the two quickly search out the gates to get out. The thing is, they just can’t find them! As the night continues, the two keep searching for a way out; all the while the woman becomes more and more comfortable with being with the dead in the cemetery.

With its setting in a ramshackle and romantic (ok, most would call it creepy) cemetery, The Iron Rose is requisite viewing for those that revel in the darker and more macabre side of life. Its gothic atmosphere (wildly overgrown cemetery, crumbling architecture) and striking visuals (the opening scene of a woman in red standing at the edge of a roaring sea, the eerie shots of the cemetery) are a tribute to Rollins’ talent as a filmmaker and are the reason why the film succeeds.

The film has little dialogue and not much of a story (“lovers get stuck in a cemetery at night, get spooked, go a little batty” just about covers it), instead relying upon atmosphere, ambiance and emotion to draw the audience in (of course, beautiful actress Francoise Pascal probably doesn’t hurt either). The film is bathed in gothic atmosphere and aches with angst. There are no spooks, no psychos and no monsters stalking the young couple…just the hundreds of dead surrounding them, reminding them of their own mortality.

On the down side, the film is slowly (but deliberately!) paced with not much happening. The couple runs around a lot, knocks over a few headstones, gets into a violent fight, makes love in an open grave filled with bones and the woman begins reciting some darkly themed poetry and philosophy. If you are looking for a straightforward, gory horror film, The Iron Rose isn’t for you. The thing is, though, the slightly repetitive nature of the film works in its favor. We, like the protagonists, feel like we are trapped in a surreal nightmare that we just can’t escape. For some of us, including the female protagonist, this dark atmosphere is beguiling, bewitching and we don’t want to leave it.

More of an art film than a horror movie, The Iron Rose is nonetheless a beautifully enchanting piece of work that deserves to be more widely seen. It also shows what a lyrically visual filmmaker Rollins’ was and continued to be throughout his career.

If you are in the mood for an artistically gothic film, no other rose would smell as sweet as The Iron Rose.

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