La Rose De Fer, or The Iron Rose, one of Jean Rollin's most obscure films at least in terms of visibility, is short on plot but high on atmosphere. A young man (Hugues Quester) and a young woman (Francoise Pascal of The Grapes Of Death) are drawn to each other after they meet and soon head off on a bicycle ride that leads them to a creepy old cemetery. They wander in and the man decides that they should head on down into one of the tombs for a little romance. She's not too keen on the idea but decides that rather than be left alone among the gravestones she'd better oblige him.
Once they're down there and they've done their business they come out of the tomb to find things have taken a turn for the worse. As they try and find their way out of the cemetery, things spiral out of control and soon they both find themselves going quite insane.
As much an art film as it is a horror film, if not more so, La Rose De Fer is a very nice looking movie that has a lot of Rollin's trademark touches on very obvious display - the obligatory beach scene, a random clown (Rollin's favorite cinematic clown, Mireille Dargent of Requiem For A Vampire, Demoniacs and Lips Of Blood), plenty of gothic architecture and even a guy who may or may not be a vampire running around amongst the tombstones at one point. The more the young couple explore the burial grounds, hoping to find their way home and back to safety, the more complex their travels become and it seems that the land itself is conspiring against them to keep them inside its gates.
Plenty of long, lingering shots of the cemetery provide an eerie setting for the events to transpire inside of, and Rollin's camera work does a great job of capturing how intimidating a large burial ground can be at night. Trapped in among the dead, the two characters slowly but surely lose themselves much like the viewer will lose him or herself in the film not through intense dialogue (there's actually not a lot said in the film, really) but through the ambience and the atmosphere that the director creates with his nightmarish mood. Fans know that if there's one thing that Rollin does well, its atmosphere and even in this early feature, we can see that he has that aspect of filmmaking completely mastered.
Above all, with its languid pacing and intentionally dreamlike atmosphere and scene construction, Rollin's La Rose De Fer is a essentially poetic film (it's not a coincidence, as the liner notes discuss, that the poetry of Tritan Corbiere is a lynchpin in what plot there is here) that functions less on the linearism of its plot and story and more on the claustrophobia that its characters experience as the movie builds. While it doesn't all happen at a break neck pace and there aren't any horrific set pieces or over the top moments of sex or gore (though some nudity is here, the film is markedly less sexualized than a lot of the director's other, better known, and more commercially successful films), the film doesn't need them. Quite simply, as a semi-surrealist, and at times almost minimalist, take on what is, at the literal core of its plot, simply a night out gone wrong, it works very nicely. Throw in some interesting allegories pertaining to life, love and more obviously death and you're left with a film that's not only a feast for the eyes but which also serves up a lot more food for thought than a lot of viewers will likely give it credit for.
Kino/Redemption presents The Iron Rose in an AVC encoded 1.66.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer mastered from the original 35mm negative. Despite some minor specks here and there that are far more noticeable in the first five minutes of the movie than in the rest of the film, the image is a strong one, showing nice depth and strong detail throughout. Some scenes that were shot with a soft look still retain that softness, so detail isn't always mind blowing, but for an older low budget film, this one fares rather well in high definition. You can make out the texture in the negligees worn by the female characters in the film and you can feel the grit and dirt in the cemetery once our characters wind up there. Black levels are strong and if shadow detail isn't always completely perfect, it's very close. As it's been with the other Blu-ray releases that Kino has offered up of the director's work so far, fans of Rollin's films should be very happy with Kino's efforts on this one, as once again, the transfer looks very good.
The best audio option on the Blu-ray disc is a French track, in LPCM 2.0 Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only, though an English audio track is also provided, again in LPCM 2.0 Mono that is on par with the original language mix in terms of clarity and quality. Both tracks sound quite good here, offering properly balanced dialogue and sound effects and really allowing the tone of the score to come through with more clarity than before. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note and everything sounds nice and clean and clear. It should also be noted that the subtitles translate the French language track (they're not dubtitles) and that there are some conversational differences between the two language options. The English track sounds fine, even if it's just a little bit lower and less pronounced in the levels department than the French track is, but the dubbing doesn't do the film any favors. Unless you've got an aversion to subtitles, watch this one in French - it just suits the movie better.
Extras start off with a quick introduction from Rollin (1:16), who speaks for just over a minute about this film and his thoughts on it. More substantial is an interview with Francoise Pascal (22:01) who talks not only about her work on this film but how she wound up working with Rollin in the first place. She notes that she wanted a role that didn't require the nudity her earlier parts had required of her, and how Rollin initially didn't want her for the part at all. Pascal speaks rather fondly about the film and her part in it, discussing how Rollin warmed to her in the part over time and telling some interesting stories about the time she spent on sent and about the cast members she was involved with on this project. Kino has also included a second interview, this time with Natalie Perrey (8:40) who talks about her experiences shooting this film and how it required twelve hour days and a lot of shooting in the dark at night to get what Rollin wanted on film. She expresses her fondness for the cast and crew and notes that Quester was 'against the film' and not all that into the project when it began. It's quite a good interview with someone who knew the director very well and obviously had the utmost respect for him and for his work.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the English language opening credits sequence for the movie and HD trailers for the feature and for The Shiver Of The Vampires, (English and French versions) The Nude Vampire, The Iron rose and Lips Of Blood. All of the extras are presented in high definition, which is a nice touch on Kino's part. Animated menus and chapter stops are included and inside the keepcase is a twenty-page full color booklet of liner notes from writer Tim Lucas which do a great job of making the case for the legitimacy of Rollins work and the artistic value of that work and which also do a fine job of detailing his life, times and some of his more popular films. A great addition to the package, this is a solid read and it's nicely illustrated as well. The last page of the booklet contains a brief note from Nigel Wingrove regarding his early 90s efforts to bring Rollin's films to the masses.
Kino's Blu-ray release of The Iron Rose is a very welcome addition to the high definition library of anyone who appreciates Rollin's work. It's probably not the best starting point for those new to his filmography but that doesn't change the fact that it's a beautiful, well made and wholly unique film and one which will hopefully earn itself some new fans with this excellent Blu-ray special edition release. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.