• Gradiva

    Released by: Mondo Macabro
    Released on: August 25, 2009.
    Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet

    Cast: James Wilby, Arielle Dombasle, Dany Verissimo, Farid Chopel, Lotfi Yahya Jedidi, Marie Espinosa, Farida Khelfa, Faycal Attougui, Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, Pascal Judelewicz
    Year: 2006

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    The Movie:

    Better known as the Oscar-nominated writer of 1963’s Last Year At Marienbad, Alain Robbe-Grillet both wrote and directed his 2006 cinematic swansong based on the novel by Wilhelm Jensen. Robbe-Grillet, who passed away only recently in 2008, made a few interesting films but remains best known for his literary work, though it’s interesting that his final film would turn out to be a strange mix of de Sadean S&M and genuine romance.

    The film follows an English historian named John Locke (James Willby) who is involved in researching some paintings in Morocco for a book that he’s writing on Eugene Delacroix. Upon his arrival he jumps right into his research which proves quite fruitful when he uncovers two heretofore unknown sketchbooks. He also becomes obsessed with one of the women (Arielle Dombasle
    ) who he sees sketched in one of the books, in fact, he starts to see her face all over the place. He learns that her name is Gradiva and as he tries to figure out more about who this woman is and how he can find her, he learns of a bizarre sex cult called The Club Of The Golden Triangle. Complicating matters further is the involvement of a sexy young maid named Belkis (Dany Verissimo). The more Locke learns about Gradiva, the more unusual the circumstances surrounding their ‘relationship’ become as fantasy and reality begin to shift and eventually become one.

    Gradiva has an interesting spontaneity about it that lets the film go from fantasy to reality and back again at whim. There isn’t much concern here for traditional linear storytelling; instead, the film borders on surrealism and lets the images and set pieces connect the dots for us. Characters act without reason, choices are made with not allusion to logic, and we are left wondering just how much is happening in the real world in contrast to what is happening in Locke’s mind.

    Willby gives a believably distraught performance here and he makes for an interestingly flawed protagonist of sorts, though it’s the female cast members who steal the show. Dany Verissimo is stunningly beautiful and her dark features make for an interesting (and we have to assume intentional) contrast to Dombasle’s fair hair and pale complexion. The two of them are quite beautiful and it’s easy to understand Locke’s philandering ways when surrounded by these two ladies. Not just eye candy, however, the pair prove themselves to be very adapt actresses as well, in turn both seductive and at times even sympathetic in their portrayals of their respective characters.

    Making the most of its exotic Moroccan locations, Gradiva is a beautiful looking film. It’s very carefully shot with some obvious attention given to the framing and the lighting to create a palpably sexy atmosphere for the kinky plot to play out in. it’s a very sexualized film, and while at times it might feel a little bit like a stage play more than a film, this helps maintain the film’s otherworldly atmosphere and to further the deterioration of the boundaries of the two world’s that Locke’s perils play out in.


    Mondo Macabro’s brand new transfer presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen and taken from original vault materials looks just excellent on this DVD. You might notice some minor compression artifacts if you look for them but other than that, the image is fantastic. The colors are amazingly clean and clear and there’s a great amount of detail present throughout the picture. Shadow detail and flesh tones (very important in a movie with this much skin on display) look lifelike and natural and the image quality, overall, is very strong indeed.

    The French language Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack is so clean you could hear a pin drop. The optional English subtitles are free of any typographical errors and plenty easy to read. The film’s soundtrack comes through loud and clear but never overpowers the dialogue of the sound/foley effects in the movie. No complaints here aside from the fact that there are a couple of brief snippets of dialogue that the subtitles don’t catch.

    The most substantial extra on this disc is Robbe-Grillet On Gradiva, a half hour long video interview with the writer-director that touches on his career, his thoughts on filmmaking, his influences and what it was like working on this particular picture. There’s some nice clips used here to illustrate various points and the director makes for a reasonably fascinating subject given his seemingly obsessive directorial traits and the often times controversial subject matter he deals in. He also speaks at length about his feelings on government imposed censorship and the perils thereof. The interview is conducted in French with forced English subtitles.

    Rounding out the supplements nicely are the film’s trailer, a text biography for
    Alain Robbe-Grillet and separate biographies for a few of the cast members, menus, chapter selection, and of course, the ever expanding Mondo Macabro promo reel.

    The Final Word:

    Intriguingly perverse, this classy mix of arthouse creativity and exploitative titillation makes for a pretty engrossing watch. Gradiva is a beautifully shot picture featuring some bold performances and an impressive script and Mondo Macabro brings it to DVD in grand style.