Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Cinema of Jean Rollin: Les Amours Jaunes (1958)

Viewed fifty years after it was shot, the most remarkable thing about Jean Rollin’s first venture into filmmaking is just how much it feels like a Jean Rollin film. Entitled Les Amours Jaunes (The Yellow Lovers) shot in black and white with a voice over made up of bits of poetry and running just around ten minutes, Rollin’s first short film is an interesting little time capsule that sees him beginning to explore some of his major thematic obsessions a full decade before he will begin shooting his first feature.

Rollin recalled to interviewer Peter Blumenstock in Virgins and Vampires (a version of the same interview first appeared in Video Watchdog 31) that the film was shot near the sandy shores of Dieppe and it is indeed the many shots of the beach that will instantly signal fans that this is very much a Rollin production. Inspired by a Tristan Corbiere poem, Les Amours Jaunes is on overtly romantic and lyrical piece that is obviously the work of a first time filmmaker, but one who is already showing remarkable promise.

Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs ventured a guess in their essential Immoral Tales that Rollin might have been attracted to Corbiere’s work because of his “peculiar reputation” and “his troubled relationship with his father.” Rollin himself would recall in Virgins and Vampires that he was “very fond of him” and considered him “sort of an outsider”. The fact that Rollin would choose to align himself with someone clearly on the outside at the earliest stage of his career is of massive importance, marking Les Amours Jaunes in many ways an ideal first film for the iconic director.

Recalling how Les Amous Jaunes came to be, Tohill and Tombs note that “Rollin ‘borrowed’ an ancient 35mm camera from the newsreel company he was working for” and that he shot the film on weekends with friends. They would also note that the camera was a “Maurigraphe” and that it was “incredibly heavy, noisy and complicated”, a fact that makes the relative professionalism of Les Amours Jaunes all the more noteworthy.

Watching the film today one can detect Rollin's many influences, tracing all the way back to the work that he told Blumenstock was the first film he ever saw as a young child, "Abel Gance's Capitaine Fracasse (1942). Rollin recalled that he "remembered the storm sequence" and that it "changed (his) life forever." Later in the interview he would mention his love for serials and adventure films, citing such works as The Shadow (1940) and the Johnny Weismuller production Jungle Jim (1948)as favorites. He noted that one of his major cinematic obsessions, the beach, came directly from the love he had for these serials as a child growing up.

Set to a series of seemingly random, but striking, black and white images as well as a surprising break for the drawings of Rollin’s friend, actor Fabien Loris, Les Amours Jaunes has more in common with the short work that Polish animator Walerian Borowczyk was doing in the late fifties, rather than the French New Wave directors like Truffaut and Godard that one might have expected Rollin to attempt to align himself with. This was, after all, shot at the same time the New Wave was beginning to explode, but already you can feel that Rollin is distancing his art from it all in an attempt to position himself in the way that he recalled Corbiere did, as “someone between two worlds.”

According to IMDB, the small cast Rollin assembled for the film, including Dominique Vidal, Guy Huiban and Jean Denisse never appeared in front of a camera again. They were friends looking to help the budding young filmmaker out and considering that much of Les Amours Jaunes is shot in long shots it is hard for them to make much of an impact. It is indeed the beach that is the real star of Rollin’s first production, and the idea that a major talent had been announced even though it would take many years for him to get a major production off the ground.

Les Amous Jaunes can currently be seen on Disc Three of Encore's import box-set of Lips Of Blood as well as Redemption's The Nude Vampire disc. Both include a series of stills from the film as well.
Rollin would continue shooting short films throughout the early sixties, although unfortunately they are either lost or currently unavailable. Thankfully his 1965 short, Les Pays Loins (The Far Country) is in circulation and I will be posting a look at that work very soon.


The King Of Cool said...

Never seen this one before. Great post. I'm really looking forward to this blog. I'm a fan of Rollin's, but there are films of his I've never seen. I'm sure that I'm going to learn more about them, plus learn some things about films of his I dig.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith. I really appreciate that and I hope you enjoy the blog.

Roger L. said...

Great so far, I'm looking forward to a chronological discussion.

Link to Mondo Cine for a current snapshot of the exhibition business, as I've seen it.

Roger Leatherwood

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks roger for the nice words. I will begin creating the links this weekend and will add yours. Thanks again...