Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Iron Rose (1973)

The Movie: An unnamed young man (Hughes Quester) at a wedding notices a woman (Francoise Pascal) sitting at another table. He stands up and announces that he would like to recite a love poem, which he does, while staring at the woman. A little later, he stands outside and she comes out to ask why he looked at her while he recited the poem. The man talks her into meeting him for a bike ride the following day.

They meet at a train yard and, after playing around, go on their ride. The couple passes a cemetery and decides to go in for a picnic. After eating, they go into a crypt to make love. The couple is so distracted that they don’t notice the passage of time, and when they finally exit the crypt night has fallen. An attempt to find the exit reveals that they are lost. As they search, unsuccessfully, for a way out, hysteria starts to set in…

The Review: For this blog I have focused on movies that have affected me in some way. Naturally, the majority of them are movies I have enjoyed; whether as good art or brainless fun. However, if you look through my past entries you will notice I have also reviewed one film that disappointed me; one that underwhelmed me to the point of depression; one that simultaneously repulsed me and pissed me off; one that reopens old wounds every time I watch it; and one that will wound just about anybody who sees it.

Movies are a form of art, and I am of the opinion that art should serve one of two functions, if not both at once. Firstly, art is meant for enjoyment. On some level, most art is made specifically for somebody to enjoy. That is certainly one of the main reasons I got into movies in the first place.

Secondly, art should make you think, cause your mind to go directions it normally wouldn’t. Sometimes this can be pleasant, thus fulfilling the first role as well as the second. However, sometimes this is done through invoking shock, disgust, anger or other less pleasant emotions. These are also necessary; hence why artists tend to push the envelope of what is acceptable. Our world is not all sweetness and light after all; and there are many unpleasant truths that we must be aware of.

Of course, there is a line to be drawn. Things like child porn, the snuff films of urban legend, or animals being hurt or killed on screen are definitely wrong and illegal for a reason. This isn’t because of the subject matter, but because of the harm done to create them. I am of the opinion that no subject matter, in and of itself, should be off limits for art. However, I am against anything that causes actual harm to others in the creation of said art.

The Iron Rose is one of Jean Rollin’s earliest works. It is also one of his most personal and least commercial creations. The first problems come in with how, exactly, to define it. The synopsis on the back of my DVD box claims it is a horror movie, but it really isn’t. There are some creepy and eerie parts throughout the movie, but that is the extent of its horror elements; The Iron Rose is not a horror movie by any real standards.

If I had to assign it a standard designation, I would say that The Iron Rose is a romance. However, it is nothing like what you probably thought of when I said it was a romance. And as for the “eurosleeze” aspect; Pascal does do a nude scene, but it is such a small and brief part of the film that if you are only watching for the nudity, you are really going to feel cheated.

The website Esotika Erotica Psychotica (there is a link to your right if you are interested), in its review of the film, says that The Iron Rose is a literal depiction of a man and woman creating a private world that only contains each other. That is certainly my impression as well. Aside from the wedding at the beginning, and the odd looking people initially in the cemetery, our two protagonists are the only two people in the film. They are definitely the only two characters we get any kind of real look at.

Rollin’s trademark invoking of feelings of isolation help reinforce this impression. Most notable is the scene where the two are playing and making out in the train yard. Our protagonists are not just the only people in the scene; they are the only things moving. However, all the while we are hearing the sounds of moving trains and passengers and loudspeakers. The scene leaves the sense that the lovers have stepped out of the world the rest of humanity inhabits, but that it is still running just out of sight.

Likewise, in the graveyard there is a definite disconnect between the two young lovers and the other visitors. For the most part, they take little, if any, notice of each other. With one minor exception, it’s kind of like they are in alternate dimensions where the others don’t exist.

The Iron Rose doesn’t really have much in the way of plot, but instead functions by invoking emotion and poetic images. I think the beginning of the movie does a very good job of conveying the impression of beginning love between two young people. Both the actors and the shot do beautifully in portraying the attraction the lovers are feeling, and the tentativeness they feel approaching each other. Even better, it’s done without any kind of music; just the sounds of the outdoors and their words.

My favorite part, because it’s so accurate to my own experiences, is the man’s reaction when he’s successful in convincing the woman to go on a date with him. As soon as she starts heading back to the building, he lets out an excited whoop and punches the tree he is standing next to. Then he immediately regrets it.

For the most part, The Iron Rose is a series of dreamlike episodes. It is beautiful, and there is a strong sense of wonder and emotion over the whole thing. However, there is much that is open to interpretation; which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your preferences. For example, after seeing the film several times and reading many reviews, I’m still not sure whether I’m supposed to find the ending to be happy or tragic. While the movie successfully invokes a lot of emotions in me when I view it, I’m not always sure what the emotions are.

In conclusion, The Iron Rose is a true art house movie, though of the good kind. It is a unique vision of beauty, wonder, various emotions, and a certain amount of filling in the blanks on your own. Whether that appeals to your or not is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

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