• Trans-Europ-Express

    Released by: Kino-Lorber/Redemption Films
    Released on: February 11th, 2014.
    Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet
    Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Marie-France Pisier
    Year: 1967
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    The Movie:

    Written and directed by French filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1967’s Trans-Europ-Express
    Begins when a film director named Jean (played by Robbe-Grillet himself) joins his producer, Marc (Paul Loyet), and his assistant, Lucette (Catharine Robbe-Grillet), aboard the Trans-Europ-Express. As they take the train ride from Paris bound to Antwerp, they discuss the possibilities for turning a voyage such as this into a feature film surrounding drug smugglers.

    While this conversation, which stretches throughout the entire film, we see an actor, Jean-Louis Trintignant, enter the station. From here we see most of the story play out through his eyes, as he becomes a character named Elias. As it turns out, he’s taking the train to Antwerp to retrieve a suitcase full of cocaine that he is in turn supposed to deliver to his mysterious gangster employers. Upon his arrival in Antwerp he makes his connection and hands him his scarf – he’s being tested. While this happens, he’s watched by a girl in a window. She approaches him afterwards and asks him to buy her a drink. He obliges, she tells him her name is Eva (Marie-France Pisier) and asks if he’d like to go back to her place. When he says he’s not interested she asks him what he is interested in. His response? “Rape and only rape.” She tells him that’ll cost extra and they head back to her place for what is basically consensual rough sex. But there’s more to Eva than just good looks and a penchant for the kinky and the ‘truth’ about Elias’ actual mission in Antwerp will come as a surprise to no one but Elias himself.

    Basically two plots that slowly (but surely) collide towards the finale, Robbe-Grillet’s playful directorial style keeps the movie as amusing as it is intriguing. Shot with a careful eye for composition and making great use of shadow and light to provide for plenty of visually interesting contrasts, the film is a treat to look at while the plot twists and turns in fascinating ways. At the center of all of this is a stone faced Trintignant, playing everything with the utmost seriousness and never really breaking character once he ‘becomes’ Elias. His interactions with the drop dead gorgeous Pisier provide the central relationship in the film, and while it starts off as purely sexual, it morphs into something more bizarre and more obsessive before the inevitable ‘FIN’ hits the screen at the ninety-six minute mark. Pisier’s character is the more playful of the two. At one point he remarks that she’s too accustomed to being abused but this doesn’t stop him from having fun with her or tying her to a bed and using her for some quick thrills.

    Cinematographer Willy Kurant, who also worked with Goddard, lingers on Pisier a lot, focusing not only on her body but also on her face, accentuating her dark and piercing eyes but lighting her softly and with an emphasis on sensuality. The editing in the scene in which Elias ‘rapes’ her, in which the train itself is used as an obvious metaphor for their fornication, is a cliché but it’s used well here and fits in with the film’s obvious, if intentionally bizarre, sense of humor. The finale, which takes place inside a coyly named night club and which features a beautiful woman chained on a rotating platform for the amusement of the male and female patrons alike, is intriguing in its voyeurism but remarkably stylish and visually cool and appealing.

    Well-paced and frequently very unpredictable, the movie is a lot of fun. This must have left theater patrons scratching their heads when it played first run and the BSDM elements would cause some controversy in more conservative territories (it was banned in the UK at one point) but by modern standards it’s quite enjoyable. It mixes genres, at once a thriller and a comedy while working in elements of film noir and action movies, but it exploits the ‘film within a film’ motif very effectively and stands the test of time quite well.


    Trans-Europ-Express looks pretty good on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer presented in 1.66.1 widescreen. There are some minor specks and tiny scratches here and there but no seriously distracting print damage. The elements used were obviously in great shape, however, and the healthy bit rate ensures that this movie looks really improves over standard definition offerings. The contrast looks very strong here, despite a few spots where the original photography lets the whites get a bit hot, while black levels are strong throughout. Detail is vastly improved from previous standard definition presentations as is texture - the image is consistently sharp and shows good shadow detail in the darker scenes as well. There are no issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction at all. This is a solid picture.

    The only audio option for the feature is a French language LPCM 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. Generally speaking it’s quite a good mix, if a bit thin at times. There's a little bit of hiss here and there but it's not all that distracting unless you're overly susceptible to such things, and most won’t likely even notice it. The dialogue is generally very clean and clear and there are no issues with the levels, which are properly balanced throughout. The score sounds quite good, it has a lot more depth than you might expect and it's a very effective piece of work that enhances the film a lot. The English subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.

    The main extra on the disc is an interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet that runs just over thirty-two minutes. Here the director discusses the origins of this picture beginning with the advent of the Trans-Europ-Express train itself, noting the locations used in the picture, the importance of the ‘girl in a window’ and the use of the train station and harbor areas featured so prominently in the picture. He also talks up the contributions of the cast and crew and some of the themes that work their way into the picture. It’s an interesting discussion and the director comes off as smart and likeable.

    Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, trailers for two other Robbe-Grillet film’s coming soon from Redemption, a ‘2014 Promo Reel,’ static menus and chapter selection options.

    The Final Word:

    Trans-Europ-Express is as entertaining and engaging as it is beautifully shot and genuinely intriguing. Some excellent performances and stunning camerawork dutifully get the most out of a game cast, all of which results in a ridiculously enjoyable mix of noirish storytelling with some kinky trappings. The Blu-ray from Redemption looks and sounds quite good and the interview with the director is a great supplement to the feature presentation.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Nice review, Ian! This is a very good film. I would import this but I'm holding out for the BFI's Robbe-Grillet boxed set.
    1. Goldberg's Avatar
      Goldberg -
      Same. No rush here.