Number three in Redemption’s Jean Rollin Blu-ray editions is La Rose de Fer – The Iron Rose. After several sexy, surreal vampire films, this was a more personal movie for Rollin – a bizarre, essentially plotless study of madness and the love of death that oozes with atmosphere and striking visuals.
The film follows two thinly drawn characters – a girl (Francoise Pascal) and a boy (Hugues Quester) as they meet at a wedding and set up a date the next day. This eventually takes them to a huge, ancient cemetery, where he convinces her to make out in a tomb. But when they emerge, it’s night time, and they cannot find their way out. As they wander around looking for the exit, the girl becomes more and more fixated – possibly possessed – by the spirits of the dead, and the boy becomes increasingly aggressive and desperate.
While Rollin drops hints of sinister things to come early on – the cemetery seems to have a resident vampire, who we see briefly, and its fair share of sinister looking visitors, including Rollin himself – the film quickly evolves from being another entry in his erotic vampire series into something very unique – closer to the works of Alain Renais or Bunuel (after all, his Exterminating Angel also features people inexplicably trapped in a location). The cemetery, in daytime a run down, atmospheric pace of the dead, at night becomes a maze and possibly an alternative universe – and it is the atmosphere more than any supernatural aspect that I suspect possesses the girl. Apart from a quick fantasy trip to Rollin’s favourite beach location (a chance to have Pascal frolic naked in a film otherwise devoid of blatant nudity and eroticism), the film never leaves this increasingly claustrophobic location, and neither do its two leads.
Pascal – almost painfully sexy – gives a remarkable performance. Rollin’s films are not generally known for their acting, but he undoubtedly had the ability to draw a melancholic sense of necromanticism from his better actresses (he would do a similar thing, albeit less effectively, in The Living Dead Girl years later). Pascal seems possessed by her character – her transition from terror to acceptance to a strange joy being remarkable, as she moves from peril to pleasure in a way that is intense and unnerving. Her smile at the film’s finale is chilling.
If you need to convince people that Rollin deserves to be seen in the same light as other European arthouse filmmakers of the Sixties and Seventies, then this is probably the film to begin with. As a horror film, it’s really a non-starter, but as a work of art, it’s amongst the best you’ll see. Visually stunning, atmospheric and unforgettable, this is a highlight of Rollin’s filmography and of French cinema in general. Even if his vampire films don’t appeal, I suggest you give this a try – you won’t regret it.