The first film directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet is an intentionally odd film that follows the exploits of a French professor (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) in Turkey whose unhappy existence is brightened by an encounter with a stunningly beautiful, albeit very mysterious, woman (Françoise Brion). This woman is more than she seems, however, as she may have a connection to a criminal organization involved in a modern day slave trade/prostitution ring. Yet, their relationship goes on for a few days, until eventually she mystifyingly vanishes.
Understandably the man wants to know what happened to her and so he sets out into the streets of Istanbul to see if he can track her down. Amazingly enough, everyone he talks to about the woman has no recollection of her at all. It's as if she never existed to anyone but him. When fairly suddenly he runs into her again and they're reunited, his happiness is once again cut short by a freak car accident resulting in her untimely death. From here, he psychoanalyzes the events that killed her over and over again in his mind, trying to determine if his own actions caused the accident or not.
A strange film where we see the budding filmmaker experimenting with narrative structure, and the first half of the film is obtuse to the point where it'll definitely alienate those who require a more linear storytelling style than the one employed here. The audience and the characters alike spend the first half of the movie asking a lot of questions that there aren't any obvious answers to but once the film moves into its second half, the series of flashbacks help to fill in some of the blanks, if not all of them. There's a palpable sense of mystery here and while it's not typical potboiler material, in that it absolutely puts artistic intent and style over substance way ahead of story, there's enough to latch onto if you pay attention and think on things to make this more than a series of striking compositions.
But what a series of striking compositions they are! As is typical in the cinema of Robbe-Grillet, our leading lady, in this case the stunning Françoise Brion, spends a lot of time in slinky black lingerie completely dolled up and absolutely fetishized by the camera. This doesn't serve to further the plot all that much, though she is embroiled in a love affair so its' not completely out of synch with the story, but it does allow the filmmaker to create some impressively sexy shot setups. By doing so, we are, in a sense, seeing her through the male lead's eyes. As he obsesses over her, we're asked to come along for the ride and her sexualized scenarios (light bondage) becomes our voyeuristic eye candy. To the actresses credit, she plays the femme fatale very well, with the right balance of sex appeal and cold, dissonant style. Doniol-Valcroze also handles this material well, his frustration and, yes, obvious confusion about his situation becoming a key part of what makes his character who he is and which propels the skeletal story along in bizarre ways.
Another noteworthy aspect of the production is the way in which the architectural style of Istanbul is captured in the frame. Strange angles are used constantly throughout the movie to keep us just a little bit off guard, all of which is compounded when the man heads into the city to deal with the locals, none of whom will really show him any warmth of offer him any information or assistance. He is alone save for her, but is she even real in the first place? The city, like the characters that inhabit it and the story that unfolds between its walls, is guileful and the way in which it is shot only accentuates all of this. Is this style over substance? Definitely. But no less worth seeing for it.
L'Immortelle looks pretty good on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer presented in 1.66.1 widescreen. There are some minor specks and tiny scratches here and there but no seriously distracting print damage and for its age, the movie looks really good. The elements used were obviously in great shape, however, and the healthy bit rate ensures that this movie looks really improves over standard definition offerings. The contrast looks very strong here, despite a few spots where the original photography lets the whites get a bit hot, while black levels are strong throughout. Detail is vastly improved from previous standard definition presentations as is texture (you'll notice this in the fancy black lingerie worn in a certain scene!) while the image is consistently sharp and shows good shadow detail in the darker scenes as well. There are no issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction at all. This is a very solid picture.
The only audio option for the feature is a French language LPCM 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. Generally speaking it's quite a good mix, if a bit thin at times. There's a little bit of hiss here and there but it's not all that distracting unless you're overly susceptible to such things, and most won't likely even notice it. The dialogue is generally very clean and clear and there are no issues with the levels, which are properly balanced throughout. The score sounds quite good, it has a lot more depth than you might expect and it's a very effective piece of work that enhances the film a lot. The English subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.
The main extra on the disc is an interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet that runs thirty-four minutes. Here the director discusses the origins of this picture, which as stated, was his directorial debut. He also talks about writing the film and about writing Last Year At Marienbad. He also shares some thoughts on the contributions of the cast and crew and some of the themes that work their way into the picture. It's an interesting discussion and the director comes off as smart and likeable.
Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, trailers for two other Robbe-Grillet film's coming soon from Redemption, a ‘2014 Promo Reel,' static menus and chapter selection options.
Redemption brings L'Immortelle, Alain Robbe-Grillet's inaugural directorial effort, to Blu-ray with an excellent transfer, good audio and a revealing director interview that does a nice job not only of detailing the film's history but of providing some historical context for it as well. The movie itself is interesting, artsy, sexy and fairly compelling. 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.