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Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet
Cast: Françoise Brion, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Guido Celano
Length: 101 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.67:1 (From original 1.66:1)
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
- Interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet (32 min.)
- Three trailers for the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet
- 2014 promo short
Prior to L’Immortelle (1963), Alain Robbe-Grillet had numerous successful screenwriting endeavors as part of the French New Wave auteurs. Most notable, is his collaboration with Alain Resnais on the film Last Year at Marienbad, which won the Golden Lion in 1961 and was later nominated for the 1963 Academy Award for Writing (Original Screenplay). After this success, Robbe-Grillet seized on the opportunity to transpose his cerebral writing style into the cinematic medium. Proof of Robbe-Grillet’s talent lies in his seamless transition from writer to director.
The French-Turkish production was entered into the 13th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Prix Louis Delluc. Set in Istanbul, L’Immortelle is an innovative suspense drama with seemingly ‘sci-fi’ touches, highly indicative of the experimentation with non-linear narrative form during the French New Wave movement. Robbe-Grillet uses extensive flashbacks and surrealist fantasy sequences to replicate the eking out of memory. While the film is indicative of Robbe-Grillet’s later commercial success with Trans-Europ-Express (1966), L’Immortelle is more than just the foretelling of an interesting film career. It is the story of a first time director whose style and command of the cinematic language was impressive from the very beginning.
The film centers around an unnamed dispirited wanderer who meets a beautiful, albeit suspiciously so, woman, who he later discovers may be involved in the kidnapping of women for human trafficking. After several days of pensiveness and melancholic passion, the woman vanishes without a trace. While searching for her, he struggles to find answers from the local Turkish people who deny ever seeing the woman. When he does finally locates her she dies in a car crash before being able to explain her disappearance. The man then tries to replay the images in his head and recollect, from his fragile psyche, whether he bears any responsibility for her death.
Every character in L’Immortelle is Turkish except for the unnamed man, who does not speak Turkish. Placing the viewer in line with the main character, the film only offers translation for the moments in the film where French is spoken. This isolation technique challenges the way audiences traditionally perceive storytelling. As a result, the film retains an otherworldly, dreamlike quality to it. By playing with the narrative form, Robbe-Grillet creates a world that is just as mysterious to western audiences as it is to L’Immortelle’s central character, imbued with a deep sadness and waning consciousness. This pathos demonstrates a cinematic choice by Robbe-Grillet that enhanced the energy and noir-like eroticism of his diegesis.
The HD transfer of L’Immortelle is of the same high standard as Kino and Redemption’s previous two Robbe-Grillet blu-ray releases. The black and white image looks gorgeous, retaining the look of true celluloid. No sharpening or filtering seems to have been performed to the detriment of the image, leaving a nice and manageable amount of film grain. The contrast is very pleasing to the eye, and there is excellent image depth. The print itself is in very good shape as well, with very few scratches and white specs. All in all, another technical triumph in Kino and Redemption’s ongoing Robbe-Grillet series.
The 20-mono track mix copes well with the needs of the sound, though the vintage recording does produce a bit of distortion at the high registers. Overall, hiss and pops are minimal and are not distracting.
It is unfortunate that such a rare and largely unappreciated did not come with more special features to help contextualize the film. Although this release comes sans Theatrical Trailer and the usual “grab bag of goodies” for Blue Ray fanatics, it does include an interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet which runs a little over a half hour. What is interesting here is the way he discusses L’Immortelle, which may come as a surprise to fans and critics. Without spoiling, it curiously discusses the Man’s longing and “unquenchable thirst” for vindication.
By using the narrative conventions so characteristic of film noir (the femme fatale/dubious “dame who got away”) Robbe-Grillet was able to explore the existentialist questions haunting the human experience, unequivocally tied to time, loss, and the persistence of memory. These themes continued to characterize Robbe-Grillet’s directorial style, employing experimental narratives as a means of both challenging traditional narrative structure and conveying the fluidity of his theoretical concepts. In this way, L’Immortelle worked as an experiment, a lamentation, on a fate worse than solitude: being trapped in a world of thoughts surrounded by people who make you feel alone.