Color, 2006, 118m. / Directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet / Starring James Wilby, Arielle Dombasle, Dany Verissimo, Farid Chopel
Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

While researching the history of Delacroix paintings in Morocco, writer John Locke (Howards End’s Wilby) gets a tip on some undiscovered sketches of a mysterious woman. Soon he begins seeing the model (Dombasle) throughout the city; sometimes real and at other times appearing like a ghost, she seems to guide him through a whirlwind of dark and erotic encounters involving a subservient handmaiden (Verissimo), a mysterious S&M-oriented Club of the Golden Triangle, and Gradiva, a woman murdered a century before who seems to be controlling his entire destiny.

After the famous but contentious partnership he experienced while writing his most famous screenplay, Last Year at Marienbad, novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet began directing his own material for the screen starting with 1963’s L’immortelle. Austere, immaculate, precise, and highly erotic, his meditations on time, memory and psychological dislocation are considerably more sophisticated and strategic than your average French erotica, and upon his death in 2008, he left behind a challenging legacy which will continue to be debated for years to come.

Completed two years before his death, Robbe-Grillet’s final film, Gradiva (full title: C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle), works quite nicely as a cinematic swan song, even smoothly integrated startling slices of footage from his past films like L'éden et après and Glissements progressifs du plaisir (neither of which have received English-friendly releases in any format to date). Elliptical, sometimes confusing, and always visually ravishing, Gradiva features the usual Robbe-Grillet staples like unexplained segues into fantasy sequences and static tableaux of women in bondage (but with nothing resembling a standard sex scene in sight). The film credits its source as the influential 1903 Wilhelm Jensen novel (a psychoanalytical favorite) but is really more of a playground for the director’s obsessions and ruminations on aesthetics, which can be frustrating for the uninitiated but fascinating for anyone willing wander through his dark filmic alleys.

For years Robbe-Grillet refused to allow his films to be released on home video, arguing that they could only be appreciated in a cinema. That situation began to change with the official release of his excellent La belle captive, and this marks the second sanctioned DVD of one of his titles. Mondo Macabro’s gorgeous anamorphic transfer is a stunner from start to finish, filled with burnished gold and brown hues with startling red accents in numerous scenes. It’s easily one of the most beautiful discs they’ve released to date, and the French soundtrack (with optional English subtitles) is pristine as well. Along with a text bio for the director and cast, the disc includes a wonderful half-hour interview with the bearded filmmaker who talks about his work and the often taboo subject matter which landed him in trouble for decades.

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