• Eden and After



    Released by: Kino Lorber/Redemption Films
    Released on: May 27th, 2014.
    Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet
    Cast: Catherine Jourdan
    Year: 1970
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    The Movie:


    A group of cynical college students spend most of their free time at a café called Eden engaging in games of simulated sadism and torture. Despite all of their efforts a palpable sense of ennui has settled over their playacting. These students soon come under the influence of a mysterious older man called The Dutchman (Pierre Zimmer) who, after a seemingly miraculous trick with broken glass, captivates them with stories from Africa that promise an authentic escape from their dull lives. In order to help them achieve this transcendent experience, The Dutchman offers the students the “powder of fear.” A young woman named Violette (Catherine Jourdan) takes the drug and begins to hallucinate…

    Eden and After proceeds to get much stranger from there and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s film may have some viewers scratching their heads. There is some business about an expensive stolen painting of a white-washed Tunisian building. The characters in the film (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo from Robbe-Grillet) sit in a movie theatre and watch a documentary on Tunisia. Suddenly, the characters from the audience are watching their doubles up on the screen. The remainder of Eden and After involves an adventure plot with these doubles attempting to locate the stolen painting.

    Eden and After
    is Robbe-Grillet’s first color film and he takes full advantage of the medium. The Café Eden is a startlingly gorgeous set of glass and steel based on the paintings of Piet Mondrian; the early sequences of mock-violence played out against a modern-art backdrop are some of the most visually arresting images in this director’s filmography. The action in the second half of the film is no less impressive, with the Tunisian sands and buildings creating a flat canvas of bright whites and deep blues. The utmost attention is paid to composition and color, with blood reds popping off the screen to dramatic effect. On a purely visual level, the film is a triumph.

    There is a temptation to read the second half of the narrative as a mere product of Violette’s hallucinations but to do so would do a disservice to the film’s careful construction. Eden and After continues Robbe-Grillet’s fascination with narrative, in this case with the possibilities of structuring a film according to the rules of serial music. According to this technique, which was pioneered by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, events in the narrative would be grouped not chronologically or associatively but serially; the film has twelve loose themes and Robbe-Grillet presents them in ten series. The reasoning behind this approach is that a film structured in this manner would afford equal weight and significance to each individual theme or idea.

    Eden and After is thus not merely a product of the psychedelic era but rather another example of Robbe-Grillet’s experimentation with the nature of storytelling. The film is particularly impressive when one places it without the context of the director’s oeuvre; Eden and After finds new ways to deconstruct narrative and although it is a work philosophically akin to Robbe-Grillet’s earlier films, this unique serial structure sets it apart as its own unique entity. This is the very definition of a film that rewards repeated viewings, as the pleasures it affords are one of puzzling out the narrative themes and identifying their recurrence within the sequence of events.

    Even if one doesn’t want to do the work to unpack the film’s complex structure, Eden and After can also be enjoyed as an exercise in glorious style. In much the same way as Ken Russell indulged in his own obsessions for the celebrated hallucination sequences in Altered States, here Robbe-Grillet uses the “trip” montages in order to indulge in his own passions. There are flashes of violent sadomasochism that repeat throughout the film and Robbe-Grillet would expand on these ideas in his next film, The Successive Slidings of Pleasure. In addition to eroticism, one of Robbe-Grillet’s passions is art and one of the Eden and After’s most witty jokes is a citation of Marcel Duchamp’s famous painting “Nude Descending a Staircase.” As in all successful “adaptations,” Robbe-Grillet understands that there are irreducible differences between mediums and so his nude “flickers” as she descends, the stutters and repetitions in the shot sequence being a very clever cinematic approximation of Duchamp’s cubist abstractions.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Another superb release in Kino/Redemption’s series of “The Cinema of Alain Robbe-Grillet,” Eden and After looks very good in this 1080p transfer presented in 1.66:1. The colors are vivid throughout (essential for a film of this kind) and there is great detail and superb black levels. The transfer exhibits film grain and it is most evident during dark scenes. There is no noticeable print damage.

    The audio option for this film is a French language LPCM 2.0 Mono track with option English subtitles. The mix is very good although I did notice some very minor (essentially unobtrusive) hissing on the audio track. There are no issues with distortion.

    The key extra on this blu-ray is N. Took the Dice, a 79 minute alternate version of the film that Robbe-Grillet created for broadcast on French television in 1972. However, this version offers a fairly unique experience since it is comprised of alternate takes and unused footage from Eden and After. More significantly, N. Took the Dice applies a different organizing principle in its construction; whereas the main feature is structured as a serial piece, this film is what Robbe-Grillet called aleatoric, that is left to chance. The titular character narrates the action and rolls dice, thus dictating which sequence comes next in the narrative. It is fascinating to compare both versions and they serve to illuminate each other.

    Frédéric Taddeï’s 31 minute interview with the director is, as usual, an essential watch for fans of the film. Of all the films in the Kino/Redemption Robbe-Grillet series, Eden and After is arguably the most elliptical and this piece sheds some important light on various aspects of the film’s production history. Robbe-Grillet tells a particularly amusing anecdote about the film’s rocky theatrical debut. Rounding out the disc are the usual trailers for three other Robbe-Grillet films and the 2014 “promo short.”

    The Final Word:

    The aggressively non-linear nature of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s films may turn some viewers off but Eden and After represents one of the director’s most interesting cinematic efforts, and perhaps his most visually arresting. Interestingly enough, the film is very similar in feel and tone to Jess Franco’s Succubus for its blend of surrealism and eroticism. Highly recommended!

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