Jean Rollin on Blu-ray: THE IRON ROSE Review

Charlie Hobbs, Contributing Writer
The third step in our continuing exploration of the work of Jean Rollin on Blu-ray is an unusual film in his oeuvre. The Iron Rose features no vampires, no female twins, and no significant bloodletting. What it does feature is atmosphere by the truckload. This is one of Rollin's best, if least typical films. Kino's Blu-ray of The Iron Rose shows the care they've put into the project by presenting us with a faithful image devoid of digital molestation, and the overall package remains outstanding. These discs are quickly rocketing to the top of my favorites of 2012.
THE IRON ROSE is a haunting experience - a macabre tone poem about youth and age, love and nihilism, nostalgia and superstition, and, above all, life and death. Francoise Pascal (There's a Girl in My Soup) and Hugues Quester (Three Colors: Blue) go on a metaphysical, Orpheus-like journey inside an ancient, all-but-abandoned graveyard but, as night falls, they cannot find their way out. As Quester's nihilism crumbles to impatience and terror, Pascal transfers her disappointed passion for him to the cemetery itself and becomes jubilantly (and dangerously) attuned to its dead. Pascal gives a remarkably intuitive performance, at times so spontaneous in spirit, one cannot imagine how parts of it were ever scripted.
The Iron Rose is the story of a pair of lovers who decide to go to a local cemetery on a date and find that once they are in, they cannot get out.  In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, The Iron Rose would devolve into a slasher or supernatural blood feast, however, Rollin's hand is steady, and his direction confident in this macabre exploration of civility and deteriorating mental states. There is no supernatural force binding the couple to the cemetery, there is only their own perception of reality, which grows increasingly unreliable as the film rolls on.

The boy and the girl, as they are credited, meet at a wedding reception and decide to go on a date the following day. They rendezvous at the local train station and bike to a nearby cemetery which has become overrun by nature to stop for lunch. The boy has chosen this locale, and at first it appears that the girl is more than a little bit wary of spending so much time there.  As the afternoon passes, though, things changes and their personalities begin to morph when they realize that they cannot seem to leave.

The scenario is not unlike the Luis Bunuel's social satire, The Exterminating Angel, which finds a group of Mexican aristocrats unable to leave the dining room of a mansion for no apparent reason. In Bunuel's film, the aristocrats resort to murder and the slaughter of several goats who are strangely wandering through the building. In Rollin's film, the couple is compelled to leave, but unable to do it, becoming more and more turned around as they search for the exit to the cemetery as night falls.

The two characters, initially quite compatible, begin to digress from their relatively upright manners in wildly different ways. The boy becomes more and more feral, searching feverishly for an escape to the trap in which he finds himself. The girl, on the other hand, overcomes her fears and begins to become attuned to the spirits of the cemetery. As the girl calms and communes with the spirits, the boy becomes more and more desperate, even violent, in his struggle to get out. The girl is, of course, the target of his anger as she tells him that everything is okay, and that they are surrounded by friends. I won't give away the ending, but it is beautiful in its simplicity and its willingness to go out without a bang, but with a soft whimper.

Francoise Pascal's performance as the girl is mesmerizing. She embodies the character fully and is the reason to see the film if nothing else.  Her innocent face belies the macabre thoughts going through her head increasingly as the film goes on.  Pascal loses herself in the character so completely it is difficult to believe that at least some of her performance wasn't improvised. On top of the superb quality of her performance, she is stunning to boot, a real specimen of young womanhood which contrasts beautifully with the decaying nature of the cemetery that so completely absorbs her.

The Iron Rose is a wonderful film. Jean Rollin makes do with only two characters, yet they go through so much in its brief eighty minute run time, that the film never feels anything less than compelling. The claustrophobia of the cemetery is a beautiful device to explore the natures of these two characters, and The Iron Rose is an excellent example of what can be done with very little in the way of resources. Highly recommended.

The Disc:

As I've said with the previous two Rollin films, Kino/Redemption have done us a solid by releasing these films in such marvelous editions.  The image is largely unfiltered on this Blu-ray, which means some wonderful colors and beautiful natural grain, but also, unfortunately, a lot of brightness flickering at different points during the film as the source materials were obviously somewhat compromised. I'd rather see it this way than DNR'd all to hell, though.  The audio on this disc is only available in the original French with English subtitles and sounds quite crisp, with the particularly eerie score faring very well.  Overall, a bang up job on the A/V with less than perfect material to work with.

The extras on this disc are similar to the previous two sets.  There is a two minute introduction by Jean Rollin, in which he expresses his affinity for this film.  There is also an eight minute interview with Natalie Perrey, where she expresses her dislike of certain crew members on The Iron Rose. Finally, there is a 20 minute retrospective interview with star Francoise Pascal, which is hugely enlightening and enjoyable. Pascal is very candid about her role in the film, her fellow cast and crew, and her experiences with the shoot. It is definitely worth a watch. Rounding out the package is Tim Lucas' 20 page Rollin essay as featured in all of the Rollin Blu-rays.

I cannot recommend The Iron Rose enough, and all of these Rollin Blus are region free, so you have no excuse!  
Blu-Ray Extras:
- Mastered in HD from the 35mm negative
- English dubbed version
- French with optional English subtitles
- Introduction by Jean Rollin (2 min.)
- Interview with Francoise Pascal (20 min.)
- Interview with Natalie Perrey (7 min.)
- 20-page booklet with an essay by Tim Lucas, editor of Video Watchdog
- Four original trailers for THE IRON ROSE
- Original trailers for four other Rollin films
- English opening title sequence
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