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Alice in S&M Land or The Post-Modern Marquis De Sade
Philosophical thriller or Post-Modern jigsaw or S&M skinflick - or all three at once - Alain Robbe-Grillet's first colour film is a dazzling, at times frustrating experience. Try to imagine Alice in Wonderland crossed with Story of O and you may get some idea of the perverse sensibility at work behind it. Starting off in a labyrinthine, mirror-lined nightclub called Eden, moving on to a disused factory with huge industrial vats full of sperm, ending up on the Tunisian island of Djerba - with, naturally, a detour through a jet-set torture chamber where glamorous naked women are crucified or suspended in cages - Robbe-Grillet takes his wide-eyed and waif-like heroine (Catherine Jourdan) on a spiritual and erotic odyssey to...what exactly? Sorry, but I don't know either.
Nor does Robbe-Grillet seem the tiniest bit inclined to let us in on the secret. According to a mysterious stranger (Pierre Zimmer) who breaks in on Jourdan and her jaded pals, it's something to do with transcending the limits of rational Western consciousness. Finding a darker and more primitive reality. "Break on through to the other side" - or so The Doors might put it. Intriguing enough in a drugged-up late 60s kind of way, but Robbe-Grillet's own personal "doors of perception" don't seem to open very far beyond a spot of mild flagellation, or some Emmanuelle-style sex tourism on a photogenic Third World beach.
At least the film is exquisite to behold. Its imagery is bizarre and erotic and disturbing. Catherine Jourdan - who went on to make even weirder movies with director/husband Alain Fleischer - is a lovely heroine in the tradition of the Marquis de Sade's Justine. She combines the doe-eyed fragility of a Mia Farrow with the icy blonde sensuality of a Catherine Deneuve. As her lover, Richard Leduc is undeniably handsome - but he seems far too sweet and mild-mannered for some seriously nasty sex-games with a blindfold and a bucket of scorpions. As for any ultimate meaning, you may or may not want to work that out. I suspect most of us would be happier not knowing.
Incidentally, Eden and After is one of Robbe-Grillet's MORE linear films in terms of plot - yet it's also one of his hardest to grasp. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned from that, but - once again - don't ask me what!
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