La rose de fer
Rose of Iron
The production of horror films and works of fantasy have been sporadic during the history of French cinema. Unlike the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy or even Germany, French horror has never successfully coalesced into a cycle or movement. This is somewhat of a surprise when we consider that much of the visceral quality of horror owes its origins to the French theatrical tradition known as Grand Guignol. Furthermore the elements of fantasy and dislocation that form the backbone of horror’s nightmare logic can be seen in the experimental work of the surrealist art movement - which found its greatest prominence in France in the 1920’s. The work of Georges Franju in the 1940’s and 1950’s offered a link to these past traditions, most notably in his abattoir documentary Blood of the Beasts (1949) and his outstanding cosmetic surgery nightmare Eyes Without a Face (1959). But it would be the offbeat cinematic offerings of Jean Rollin that would make this link to the past most implicit. Whether you rate his films or not his importance within French traditions of fantasy and surrealism are notable.
The cemetery takes on a life of its own and becomes uncanny and inescapable. The overgrown vegetation offering vitality and life is contrasted with the rot of the grave. The beauty of The Girl is somehow enhanced by her proximity to death, which aids her self discovery. A further contrast is offered between the crumbling and decaying architecture and the youngsters who make love upon it. Instead of bringing life into this sepulchral space their lovemaking is equated to death. The conflation of sex and death is one of Rollin’s recurring thematic trends, but in The Iron Rose it reaches an apex. If this isn’t enough Rollin adds more conventional surrealist touches such as the image of a clown delicately placing flowers on a grave and afterwards totally vanishing from the narrative.
© Shaun Anderson - 2010