6 April 2021

Alain Robbe-Grillet's L'Immortelle (1963)

Alain Robbe-Grillet wrote the screenplay L'Année dernière à Marienbad, which was directed by Alain Resnais and released in 1961. L'Immortelle is Robbe-Grillet's first film as director, and is perhaps less opaque than expected. The, er, action takes place in Istanbul, where a French teacher, N (Jacque Doniol-Valcroze) meets the alluring and mysterious Lale (Françoise Brion), who has other names.

Lale (which mean 'tulip') becomes N's guide and his lover, although she is elusive. She disappears and he looks for her, eventually finds her, although she dies in a car crash after seeing a dog belonging (it appears) to one of the men who have been trailing the couple. N. dreams, and dreams, and drives a car, visiting the same spot as where Lale dies, and he too crashes and dies. A haunting film.

Penelope Houston of The Spectator called this film 'pretentious' but with a 'hypnotic allure', which gives me pause for thought. There's pretentiousness and pretentiousness, let's not forget: any true artist of any nature should aim for pretention because it's designed to reach beyond the conventional, beyond the tedious norm, exploring new territories; but then, there are the pretentions of cranks, phonies and cod-philosophers such as the justifiably forgotten and wilfully unacademic Colin Wilson. Robbe-Grillet, on another very different hand, is a brilliant writer and brilliant film maker who will live on.

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