Gradiva (Version française) [Import]
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A highly erotic, gothic mystery, in the style of Hitchcock's "Vertigo", from Alain Robbe-Grillet, writer of the Oscar-nominated "Last Year At Marienbad" and director of the notorious "Trans-Europ Express".
An English historian living in Morocco is searching for some mythical lost paintings. His quest leads him into the ancient Arabic quarter of the city. There he sees a beautiful blonde woman in a white veil. He becomes obsessed with finding her, but discovers that she may already be dead.
His Moroccan mistress, Belkis, appears to be encouraging his obsessions, but it soon transpires that she may be trapping him in a dark and dangerous labyrinth of desire, from which death may be the only escape.
This was the last work from the acclaimed and award winning filmmaker and is an exotic, erotic mystery story which deals with some of the most profound issues of the human heart. Packed with controversial and astonishing imagery, it's an intriguing and complex work of art that is a fitting tribute to a master of world cinema.
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I didn't understand this film before reading the info in the special features. There are many erotic BDSM scenes with attractive actresses. On its face, the film might appear to be exploitative and gratuitously sado-masochistic.
However, on reading the commentary by the director (Allain Robbe-Grillet), the film came into focus as an art film exploring the deep taboos of our unconscious.
It is a film with a long history of predecessors in French cinema. Grillet (died in 2008) is a noted French author and director. Little known is that his wife, Catherine Robbe-Grillet, was also an esteemed author of French sado-masochistic literature. Under the name of Jean de Berg, she authored a book in the 1960's entitled: "The Image." It was quickly made into a French sado-erotic film. The Image ("The Punishment of Anne") The film was directed by the art-house pioneer Radly Metzger. Metzger, an American Veteran of war film documentaries for the Army, was making tasteful Therese and Isabelle art films about alternate sexuality in the 1950's and 1960's. The Radley Metzger Collection, Vol. 1 (Therese and Isabelle / The Alley Cats / Camille 2000); Radley Meztger Collection Volume 2 (Little Mother / The Dirty Girls / Score); The Radley Metzger Collection, Vol. 3 (The Lickerish Quartet/ Carmen, Baby/ The Princess and the Call Girl)
It is hard for current generations to understand how American culture has puritanically repressed our explorations in our own sub-conscious eroticism. Grillet, his wife, and Metzger explored BDSM over a period of almost fifty years. They often came under severe criticisms from contemporaries. However, they braved the public censure in order to present us with a tour of our own unexplanable sub-conscious eroticism.
Notwithstanding the relentless censure on such explorers as Grillet and Metzger, they are to be taken seriously in literature and film. Grillet was elected to the very elite "Academie Francaise." There are only 32 members of this pinnacle of French culture. He received an Oscar nomination for a brilliant film: Last Year at Marienbad. Other films in the sado-erotice genre, given to us by Grillet, include: La Belle Captive; Trans-Europ-Express. These films are considered exploitative by many, but, are deep explorations of our unconscious minds and the mysterious impulses they gift to us.
The title "Gradiva" comes from a German novel about a man who has a relationship with a dead woman by the name of "Gradiva." It was the only work of literature which Sigmund Freund attempted to psychoanalyze in order to explain the frequently unexplainable about our unconscious.
Grillet was also fascinated with the sketches and biography of De la Croix who explored sado-eroticism in Algeria in the 19th century.
Grillet weaves the biography of De la Croix, exploring his own eroticism, with the fascinating insights provided to us by Freud in his analysis of "Gradiva."
I give this film five stars because: (1) It is tasteful (even though focusing on some violence and sadistic sequences); (2) It is a serious exploration of human sexuality and human consciousness; and (3) the film is packed with powerful, meaningful images that invite us into the director's views of a complex, mysterious and often over-powering subject - our own erotic consciousness.
This film focuses on dual realities. It is an exploration of the consciousness with which we experience reality, and, the consciousness with which we experience our dreams. There is an earlier Italian film (1973) that has similar sado-erotic themes. You might find it useful for comparing this film. Baba Yaga. Here are some other films exploring sado-erotic themes: The Libertine (Also directed by Radley Metzger and starring a very young Jean Louis Tritignant); The Story of O (One of the earliest, and, most popular films dealing with women's sexual liberation through sado-eroticism);
If you have not had much familiarity with alternative sexuality the nudity and theatrical S&M might turn you on and you will overlook the blemishes and think it was erotic. There are lots of unrealistically perky breasts and a few displays of whippings, some blood, etc. Wow? -- God bless you and enjoy.
But really it is about dreaming. It is one of the most extensive EFFORTS to deal with shifting scenes and paradoxes in dreaming that I have seen. I would give it an A for effort. To help you along, there are discussions of dreams within the dream about dreaming itself that are almost pedantic tutorials on dreaming. I did not find this distracting at all because I find in my own dreams that I can have discussions about dreaming as I try to figure out if I am dreaming or awake. So actually I liked this.
Also I felt that the setting of Marrakech really contributed to the dreaminess of the film. Grade of A on this important detail.
On the other hand the dream angle allowed the director to get away with a lot that I felt made the film seem tedious and even amateurish at times. Like, so many of the breasts looked injected and unrealistic and made it seem almost like a porn film. But one could argue in defense, "Oh well that was to make it look more like a dream." Hmmm. Anyway other aspects of direction also seemed more like a porn film than serious film-making.
The acting often was also pretty theatrical or stilted in the sense of just not good. Again, one could say, well that was to make it seem more like a dream. But from my own dreams and from reading and talking, behavior in dreams is realistic but strange in not such affected ways. It is more intimate on the one hand or quite detatched on the other. So I don't think the director handled this well, though I suppose he would argue with me and it would come down to a matter of opinion unless we brought in an expert panel to offer more perspective.
A lot of things did not tie together very well from a waking perspective and it seemed as though anticipating this problem he overplayed the incongruities as though to say "look, what is happening now is really strange and impossible. Remember this is a dream.' I found that distracting, but maybe someone else would find it helpful. Add this to the length of the film and the difficulty in relating to the characters and I found the film tedious. I could have cared less about the protagonist or his women or the men who were pimping women etc. There seemed to be little effort to make them anything but "strange" and exotic. This was not Belle du Jour or some other Bunuel film in that respect.
Something interesting could have been done in terms of character development with the core idea of a writer/scholar trying to probe the erotic side of a famous artist by investigating him in an exotic place where he did some of his most interesting work. I rented the film in that hope. But nothing substantial was there that i could see in terms of the acting or direction of that character. He mostly moved about and looked puzzled. Who was this guy and for that matter "who" was the artist Delacroix? The director seemed to not want to go that way with this film. Okay, its his film. But it came across as a lost opportunity. He wanted to do something else, and I tried to view it from what seemed to be his perspective but can only give him an A for Effort.
If you follow films about dreaming or surrealistic films, then I think you should give this film a try because it is a very interesting effort at least in a technical sense and in CERTAIN ways as I tried to say, one of the best. As a whole package, I was disappointed.
Thus I tried to enjoy the exotic setting and efforts to bring dreaming to the screen and found these interesting and rewarding and can recommend the film conditionally.
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