People call Judge P.S. Colbert "artsy fartsy" because he stinks at line drawing and finger painting.
He: "I don't even know your name."
Of course, I'm kidding about one of those titles. But seriously, in order to determine if this seldom-seen slice of Nouvelle Vague cinema sounds right for you, please consider the following…
Opening with a breezy tracking shot of beautiful ancient Turkish countryside, a lilting musical accompaniment gives over to what sounds like the snarl of an attacking wild cat, immediately followed by a blood-curdling woman's scream.
Cut to: a stunning head shot of star Françoise Brion, over which the opening credits are laid. Facing the camera with a relaxed and confident expression, she appears to be the subject of a perfect photograph before spoiling it by blinking ever so slightly. Cut to: A man standing at a window, peering through slatted blinds, his back to the camera. An unidentified but loudly insistent clicking sound accompanies this image, which cuts quickly back over to the aforementioned shot of Brion—with a bit of trickery suggesting that her image is just behind the opening (or are they closing?) blinds.
Ten minutes in, we learn that the man behind the blinds (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles) is a professor, arriving in Istanbul to start an assignment of indiscriminate length: one year? two years? He can't be sure. What kind of assignment? What kind of professor is he? We'll never know—In fact, we won't learn that his name is Andre until twenty minutes later, and it's only used once. After disembarking, he's at an immediate loss: he doesn't know a soul, he doesn't speak the language, and he has no idea how to find the palatial estate he's rented in the historic Beyköy district.
A beautiful woman (Brion) steps up and offers to drive him to his new home. Though she claims that she isn't French, she speaks the language perfectly. Though she says doesn't speak Turkish, she converses easily with the locals. Highly sexualized and aggressive in private, she nonetheless shies away from public displays of affection. In darker moments, she scorns "the crumbling ramparts of Byzantium," and speaks cryptically about "Secret prisons, girls being sold…all kinds of bizarre trafficking." Who is this woman? She tells Andre that her name doesn't matter, but she's attached to several—Leila, Lale, Lucille—depending on who's talking about her.
Get the picture? Don't blame yourself. L'immortelle marks the directorial debut of noted French novelist-essayist Alain Robbe-Grillet, echoing the fractured narrative technique and dream-like quality of Last Year At Marienbad, the Oscar-nominated script he'd written for director Alain Resnais (Night And Fog).
Brilliantly photographed (in appropriately foreboding black and white) by Maurice Barry, and masterfully edited by Bob Wade (Trans-Europ-Express), this eerily erotic—tale, goosed along by a series of repetitive images and seemingly disassociated sounds—is definitely not for those who want their mysteries solved. On the contrary. Deconstruction and surreality is very much the business at hand here, as Robbe-Grillet explains in a revealing interview (included as a bonus feature with this set):
"Traditional films pretend to believe that everything can be explained. The world we live in isn't comfortable. It's constantly disquieting. Let's take refuge in stories that gloss over the strangeness of the world."
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release is nothing short of a revelation, rolling out an almost speck-free 1080p transfer, presented in 1.66:1 widescreen. The PCM 2.0 mono track is also up to snuff, effectively delivering a sonic jambalaya of semi-musical wailing and keening, boat horns and barking dogs, in addition to at least four languages being swapped throughout. There's an option available for English subtitles, but they only cover (the predominantly) French dialog.
The extras are largely superfluous and self-serving. There's a 2014 promo focused on "The Cinema of Alain Robbe-Grillet" Blu-ray collection, and three of those titles get their own individual trailers. That aforementioned interview (running nearly twenty eight minutes), however, is a stone solid gem.
As a certified snooty-britches film critic, one might assume I'm well within my rights to call L'immortelle a minor masterpiece; one that must be revisited in order to fully appreciate. If not, sue me!
Viewer discretion is advised. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
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