I’ve been curious about French director Alain Robbe-Grillet for years now, especially because he is often discussed alongside arthouse exploitation masters like Jess Franco and Jean Rollin. Redemption is releasing all of his stuff on DVD in the States this year, so I jumped at the chance to finally check out his work.
The Successive Slidings of Pleasure (aka Glissements progressifs du plaisir, 1973) is a low budget, charmingly pretentious, time-bending vampire sex fantasy, with some mild nunsploitation and S&M stuff thrown in for good measure.
The story is about a young artist who’s held in a convent and interrogated regarding the murder of her roommate. One by one she seduces and subverts the authority figures who seek to figure her out or tame her.
In some ways it’s probably the exact type of thing people would think of when they hear ‘French art film.’ It’s visually very minimalist and very specific, with most of the action taking place in front of canvas-like white backgrounds. The characters and objects that populate the film look like figures in a painting, and every pose and placement seems deliberate. Robbe-Grillet also uses montage and non-diagetic sounds to hypnotic effect, and there’s lot of metaphorical imagery that comments on power, abuse, femininity and fertility.
For all it’s brainy artifice, the movie does have a surprising sense of subtle black humor to it, a willingness to poke fun at itself that you don’t often see with these types of films. Jean-Louis Trintignant shines in a small role as an almost Clouseau-like inspector, future Bond villain Michel Lonsdale plays an easily befuddled judge, and the enchanting lead actress Anicée Alvina is able to use her petulant blankness to land some witty barbs.This humorous streak is much welcome and keeps the film from ever feeling like a slog, even though it’s quite slow moving.
When the action ventures outside the white walled rooms, it takes on a very Rollinesque character indeed, with scenes taking place on lonely beaches and in overgrown graveyards. There is also a Rollinesque semi-romantic relationship between two outsider women at the heart of the picture.
I’m very fond of Rollin, so these similarities alone would be enough to interest me in this film, but I don’t want to overstate a resemblance to any other filmmakers. The Successive Slidings of Pleasure is visually arresting, amusingly provocative and quite well cast. I will certainly be watching more from Monsieur Robbe-Grillet and I look forward to discovering his own particular quirks and perversions. For folks interested in the process behind the film, the Redemption disc also features an enlightening half-hour interview with the director.
More screenshots here.