FEATURING: Daniel Mesguich, Gabrielle Lazure, Cyrielle Clair, François Chaumette,

PLOT: A man who works for a mysterious organization meets an alluring woman who may be a vampire, or a ghost, or a dream.

Still from La Belle Captive (1983)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: La Belle Captive is about as weird as they come. We already have two Alain Robbe-Grillet movies on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made, however; Eden and After (which is, believe it or not, even weirder than this one) and L’Immortelle (not as weird, but hypnotically unforgettable), and more are under consideration. Robbe-Grillet is a great, and greatly under-appreciated, Surrealist filmmaker, but we do wonder whether we want to push other movies out of the way to make room for yet another from a director who is already well-represented.

COMMENTS: La Belle Captive is titled after a painting by Belgian Surrealist Rene Margritte. Although there are strange figures on the canvas, a stone and a French horn on fire, the key part of the image is an easel that’s set up in front of a beach landscape. From viewing the painting you cannot be sure if it’s an expertly painted scene that matches the background perfectly, or if it’s an empty frame that acts like a window. The key is that the painting points out its own artifice, a frame inside a frame, with reality clearly lying elsewhere. (Variations on Margritte’s canvas recur throughout the film, including an actual painting which is titled “La Belle Captive, apres Rene Margritte”). Robbe-Grillet frames his story as a dream, but is it really a dream within a dream, or are we merely expected to appreciate what he has captured, and not bother with sorting the reality from the beauty of its expression? Surely the latter is the intent, though no doubt many will find pleasure in “making sense” of the contorted storyline.

Protagonist Walter works for a mysterious organization, taking his orders from Sara, a cycle-riding leather goddess. At a nightclub Walter sees a fetching blonde; he dances with her, but she will not tell him her name or phone number, and disappears when his back is turned. Later that night Walter receives a commission from Sara to deliver a letter to a senator, but as he is driving to his rendezvous he sees a woman lying crumpled, handcuffed and bloody in the road. Who should it be but, naturally, the enchantress who left him at the nightclub? She is conscious but unable to speak, and he helps her into her car and drives to a nearby chateau seeking help. The gentlemen there are at some kind of party and, to his horror, seem to believe he has come offering the half-comatose girl as a sexual plaything. They give the girl a drink, which appears to be blood in a martini glass. Finally, a man comes downstairs announcing he is a doctor and that he will treat the girl; he takes Walter and the woman to a room and, instead of examining her, locks them both inside. The captive frees herself from her handcuffs and makes love to Walter, ending their coupling by biting him on the neck. In the morning Walter wakes up to an empty house, and spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out what has happened to him. Was the woman the ghost of a local suicide who haunts these roads searching for men to corrupt? Was she actually the young fiancee of the man to whom he was supposed to deliver the letter, and is Walter being set up? And what of the bald, weasel-faced detective (the distinctive Daniel Emilfork, whom many will remember as the dream-stealing mad scientist from The City of Lost Children) who keeps running into Walter, slyly insinuating that he is responsible for girl’s disappearance? Rest assured that no firm answers to these mysteries will be forthcoming by the end of the film.

The theme of the mysterious woman who appears in numerous guises but is never obtained or even fully comprehended by her male admirer is one of Robbe-Grillet’s favorites. His male protagonists are often solid, even dangerous men who find themselves humbled, grasping at a slippery feminine that always squirms out of their grasp. The utter unknowability of the beloved engenders obsession in his characters. In La Belle Captive, Robbe-Grillet explicitly aligns himself with the Surrealists (in case there was ever any doubt) by referencing the works of Margritte. Beauty, love and art cannot be possessed; the joy is in the hunt, and the best we can ever do is to freeze captivating moments of our experience, like a frame set in front of the churning sea.


“A ripe, hallucinogenic field theory…”–Fernando Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

3 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: LA BELLE CAPTIVE (1983)”

  1. I’m really, really sorry to be that guy… but René Magritte was not French, but one of the most famous Belgians of the past century. Calling him French is the same as if you wrote that David Cronenberg was from the U.S. instead of Canada.
    There are more worthy topics to be offended with, I will agree, but for the sake of accuracy, you might want to correct this article, as it would be a shame to tarnish the image of a great website with rather high standards, to the eyes of a newcomer who would stumble upon that mistake.
    I hope I didn’t sound too pedantic, but I found it worth pointing out. And in no case my comment should disminish the generally great work on display around here. Nor the huge number I found out about and enjoyed because of you guys. Thanks.

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