• L'Immortelle



    Released by: Kino/Redemption
    Released on: April 1st, 2014.
    Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet
    Cast: Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Francoise Brion
    Year: 1963
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    The Movie:

    French new wave auteur Alain Robbe-Grillet's L'IMMORTELLE may be one of his less well-known films but it certainly represents an excellent example of the man's style. Having initially cut his teeth as a writer on director Alain Resnais arthouse classic LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD in 1961, by 1963 Robbe-Grillet was ready for the big chair with L'IMMORTELLE.

    French films of this genre - generally referred to as new wave - tended to have some unifying characteristics. The old traditional rules were out. Narrative cohesion took a back seat to arresting imagery. Creative and daring camerawork was often a strong component of the experience, but most of all these were highly personal works. These films exemplified what is called "auteur" theory.

    On the streets of Istanbul, a French professor (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) randomly mets a stunning woman (Fran├žoise Brion). The professor, a melancholy sort, ends up having a brief but passionate affair with the mystery beauty. She has secrets however. Possibly involved in a crime ring of some sort she abruptly disappears and the professor frantically tries to locate her. He's then faced with a Turkish citizenry who seem to have never heard of his lost lover. Finally reunited in a chance encounter, the man's joy is brief as she is lost yet again. He then torments himself by replaying in his mind, over and over, their final moments together.

    With virtually no dialog and a tissue-thin narrative, L'IMMORTELLE is a machine built exquisitely on the engine of pure style. This is a very sexy film that plays with notions of fetish and the male gaze but avoids being particularly (even for the era) explicit. The foreplay is where the real heat develops between the characters. The acting is perfect for the material - a bit vague but also intense. Physical movements and gestures are fraught with tension. The camera is almost the third wheel of this setup. It contorts shots often, placing the characters and action in odd framing that heightens the dreamlike atmosphere and overall disorientation beautifully. The city of Istanbul itself becomes a key component of the film, especially as the professor goes on his hunt seeking his lost love. The Turkish natives don't come off particularly well as they are either extremely unhelpful or primarily interested in fleecing tourists. All of this adds to the stranger-in-a-strange land subtext.

    Despite its lack of a clear story or traditional plotting, L'IMMORTELLE remains a very engaging and interesting film. Robbe-Grillet has a very identifiable and assured directorial style here which is impressive for his debut behind the lens. And while the film retains the mildly sexist vibe so prevalent of both this era and genre, it is so effective at capturing eroticism that it doesn't really matter.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Kino's 1.66.1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer falls on the upper end of this label's transfers. Kino generally avoid any type of digital image "corrections" in their transfers and that holds true here. It also means that they almost never bother with scratch removal and the repair of natural print damage. Luckily here the original materials were in good shape so visible defects are at a minimum. The B&W image has strong black levels and crisp definition. This is a very solid Blu ray and a clear upgrade over previous issues of the film.

    Audio is provided by a French LPCM 2.0 Mono track that while displaying period limitations is more than acceptable. Upper end is a wee bit thin and LFE virtually absent, but the fundamentals are perfectly adequate and the film's music sounds lovely. Some natural hiss is evident in the track - most probably inherent to the source material - but is never noticeably distracting. English subtitles are provided and well rendered. You won't catch any grammatical or spelling howlers here.

    The only real extra is an on camera interview with the director that runs a little over a half hour. It's an engaging and interesting discussion where he covers most of the key aspects of L'IMMORTELLE. Robbe-Grillet also touches on his work writing LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD during the chat as well. Redemption/Kino also provide additional Robbe-Grillet trailers and something dubbed the "2014 promo reel".

    The Final Word:

    An excellent example of the French new wave style and simply a fine piece of sexy arthouse cinema, L'IMMORTELLE represents a win-win for fans of this type of cinema. Kino have provided a nice transfer of a rare film and thrown in an interesting director interview as a tasty bonus. Recommended.

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