Jean Rollin has over the years gone from being one of the best-kept secrets in horror to one of the worst-kept, and now may be on the brink of actual fame. His fifty-year career including many works of idiosyncratic horror – usually erotic, frequently vampiric, usually tightly budgeted but always fantastic, weird, and dreamlike.
A proper retrospective documentary has been long overdue, and Dima Ballin and Kat Ellinger’s years-in-the-making film places him firmly in the Eurocult and Fatastique genres, making a strong case for Rollin as a master and icon of both.
His sense of poetry, his anti-rational but heartfelt logic, and his highly personal Jungian symbolism are expertly underscored by interviews with key collaborators and friends, and as his story unfolds it becomes clear how much he meant to people, not just as an unique, almost ‘outsider’, artist but as a kindhearted friend. Rollin’s status as an auteur is gradually established as his films are shown to work as a unified body, combining and recombining his personal fixations into new and ever-more evocative configurations – every film seems to be in conversation with the others, and all linked by twins, fangs, breasts, memory, imagination and the beach at Dieppe.
There’s a fascinating portrait of the changing nature of the industry, too, reflected in Rollin’s fluctuating fortunes – from the French New Wave (his first feature, released into the feverish atmosphere of Paris ’68, triggered a riot) through 70s freedoms, detouring into pornography when finances tightened (but finding there his greatest collaborator, Brigitte Lahaie, who shares her thoughts and experiences here), on through the mixed fortunes of the 80s and then into a newfound lower-budget freedom and meta experimentation towards the end of his life.
Lahaie aside, other big interview gets include David Hinds, author of Fascination: the Celluloid Dreams of Jean Rollin – probably the most important book on his work, and hugely recommended.
While Ballin and Ellinger elect not to be formally revolutionary, their film is deeply engrossing for any fan of the artier end of horror and does vital work laying the foundation for a new appreciation of this too-often overlooked visionary. Whether you’re new to Rollin’s work or a longtime fan, this film opens the door to a world of dreams and wonder.
And, for the record, my favourites are The Iron Rose (1973)and Lips of Blood (1975). C’est fantastique indeed!
Orchestrator of Storms played the Fantasia International Film Festival on Jul 16 and 18, and is coming to Frightfest in the UK on August 27.