DIRECTED BY: Jean Rollin
FEATURING: Françoise Pascal, Hugues Quester (as Pierre Dupont)
PLOT: Young lovers go mad when they are trapped in a cemetery overnight.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Iron Rose‘s wonderfully funereal setting and muted weirdness isn’t powerful enough to overcome its lack of events. The slow-paced visual poetry here is hit-or-miss, resonating strongly with some viewers while boring others stiff. I’m in the latter camp, I’m afraid; I believe there are brisker, more agreeable vehicles to represent Jean Rollin on the List.
COMMENTS: To many fans, La Rose de Fer represents the distilled essence of Jean Rollin: trancelike atmosphere, poetic visuals, and quiet, dreamy symbolism. With its couple making love all over a graveyard, rolling around in passion amongst the skulls and femurs, it’s also the most blatant example of the director’s desire to play matchmaker between Eros and Thanatos. And, while it’s correct to say Rose is pure Rollin, the very integrity of vision shown here exposes the director’s flaws even more than his virtues: his seeming indifference to character and story, his stilted faux-Symbolist dialogue, and, especially, his tortoise-influenced method of pacing. Rose begins on Rollin’s famous beach that appears in almost all of his movies; Françoise Pascal, the stunning and exotic half-Mauritanian actress/model, finds the titular mineral flower washed up on shore. She then walks through a field and a deserted French town; six minutes later, the plot begins as a young poet toasts her at a wedding reception with a ditty about death. The two arrange for a date and, after hitting it off quickly, end up in a magnificent French cemetery for a picnic and a little lovemaking inside a tomb (despite the girl’s initial reticence). The boneyard is almost deserted except for a few odd visitors, including a clown in full makeup who places flowers on a grave. When they emerge from the crypt in post-coital bliss, they find that night has fallen early, the boy has lost his watch, and the path they came in on appears to be missing. Although the scenario sounds like an promising blend of Freud and the Twilight Zone, it takes thirty minutes of plodding setup to reach this point, and when we finally do, Rollin offers us too little payoff for our patience. The boy remains sane and logical, trying to figure a way out of the maze, while the girl goes off her rocker, undergoing several radical personality shifts that end with her succumbing to the allure of the grave. There’s a near-rape and a reconciliation when the two make love on top of the dried bones in an ossuary, but mostly the couple just wander around the Gothic grounds looking lost. Just when you think former Penthouse model Pascal was the first actress to ever successfully insert a “no nudity” clause into a contract for a Rollin movie, there’s a dream sequence where she returns to the beach for some tasteful full-frontal frolicking in the sand. The saving grace in this morbid noodling is the scenic cemetery itself, a monumental site which Rollin exploits with his usual above-par cinematography. It’s a verdant park setting with forests of gray gravestones, cobwebbed crosses, and wrought iron fences. The site features a remarkable variety of monuments, from tombstones bigger than a man to pauper’s graves marked with black iron crosses, with moss-covered cherubs and loose skulls lurking in every corner. It also looks legitimately labyrinthine; with every few steps the architecture and topography seems to change, so it’s easy to imagine yourself lost there if you were unfortunate enough to be locked in behind the iron gates after closing time. Tombstone tourists will want to check it out for the scenery alone (fans of Pascal’s generous dimensions might want to check it out for similar reasons). Caution is advised for other visitors. Watch The Nude Vampire or Shiver of the Vampires first, and ask yourself: would I prefer this movie if it had less plot, no lesbian vampires, and focused more on pure atmosphere? If the answer is “yes,” then by all means give The Iron Rose a spin in the DVD player.
Redemption Films remastered DVD contains the 1965 Rollin short “Le Pays Loins” (“The Far Country”) as a bonus feature. This black and white film about a couple lost in a dreamlike reverie in a nameless North African city is more straight surrealist than horror-surrealist, and shows Rollin’s obvious roots in art cinema. Due to its more digestible length I found it slightly preferable to The Iron Rose, although it ends unsatisfactorily with a sudden thirty second freeze frame (it’s such an arbitrary conclusion that I’m not sure if this was the intended ending or an error on the disc I received).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Wonderfully evocative in its cinematography, and downright sexy/weird with the conflicted performance of Francoise Pascal… Just experience it, and groove on director Jean Rollin’s marvelously sensual tone poem of eroticism and death.”–Paul Mavas, DVD Talk (DVD)