Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Hidden Cinema of Jean Rollin: The Scent of Mathilda (1994)

Jean Rollin had all but completed his tenure in the adult film world when he shot his final "Michel Gentil" production in 1979, Introductions Perverse. The adult films that he made, a few of which I have already covered here, were mostly shot for strictly financial reasons but Rollin had admitted later that he, and many of his peers, had viewed making the adult films of the seventies as a, "kind of revolution", celebrating the fact that they could now, "film what had always been forbidden." It was perhaps with that spirit in mind that Rollin returned briefly to the world of adult moviemaking with 1994's Le Parfum de Mathilde (typically translated as The Scent of Mathilda for English-language audiences).

Initially just brought on board by French producer Marc Dorcel (who was looking for an experienced director to take the place of the his in-house auteur Michele Ricaud, who had just recently passed away) as a screen writer, Jean would end up co-directing the made for video title as well. He would tell Peter Blumenstock in Virgins and Vampires and in the pages of Video Watchdog that he had indeed, "co-directed the film, though only Dorcel is credited." Rollin would also admit to Blumenstock that he wasn't, "too sad about it", as he would ultimately come to view the final product as just a "typical" adult title and, "not a good film at all", despite his initial ambitious intentions.

Centering on a young virginal bride named Agnes, who has been brought to a large countryside Parisian chateau by her new husband Remy to take the place of his former wife, the sexually adventurous Mathilda, The Scent of Mathilda is a an absolute step-above most adult films from the period but it's ultimately nowhere as interesting as Rollin had intended it to be. Pete Tombs would write, in his splendid look at the film in pages of Flesh and Blood, that Rollin's original script, "contains echoes from a whole range" of past literary and cinematic works including Beauty and the Beast, Belle De Jour and Rollin's own most ambitious adult feature, 1975's Phantasmes. Tombs would also correctly note that despite all these lofty influences, The Scent of Mathilda is finally just, "efficient, well-planned and workmanlike." The Scent of Mathilda is, at its core, just a sex film but it has enough very scattered "Rollinisms" to make it worth tracking down for major fans who are willing to give his adult works a look.

Visually the film is an all-right viewing experience. My copy, which was supplied to me by a very kind reader, comes from an American VHS put out by the uber-succesful adult company Vivid in the mid-nineties. Technically it has nothing on the groundbreaking shot on film adult-titles of the seventies, or the more recent quite impressive digitally shot productions from the past several years. It's a competent piece of work, done no favors by Vivid's unfortunate dubbing, highlighted by Dorcel's serviceable score and the photography of Francois About, who does the best he can given the budget and time at his disposal.

Unlike Rollin's seventies adult features, the cast of The Scent of Mathilda doesn't offer up any familiar faces from Jean's canon. Fans of the European adult cinema of this period will no doubt recognize Christophe Clark, Draghixa, lovely Julie Chanel and the very memorable Erica Bella. Dorcel himself also appears in the film, as this is finally much more his baby than Rollins.

Shot just after the underrated Killing Car, The Scent of Mathilda stands as Rollin's last adult production. He would make a forceful return to the classic "Jean Rollin film" just a couple of years down the road with the impressive Two Orphan Vampires, and The Scent of Mathilda most likely stands as his farewell to a genre that helped finance many of his most personal and greatest productions but sadly did him few favors artistically.


Nelmes316 said...

I can remember watching this film (for educational purposes) years ago. But I had no idea Rollin had co-directed. Great info as always. Thanks.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks Nelmes,
I appreciate the comments and I am glad you enjoyed the post!

The Vicar of VHS said...

I was something of a Draghixa fan back in the 90s, well before I ever knew who Rollin was. I think I must track this one down just to witness the dovetailing of those disparate interests. ;)

Great article as always!

Soukesian said...

Thanks for satisfying my curiosity on this one - another excellent piece!