DVD Review: Trans-Europ-Express

STUDIO: Redemption/Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: Alain Robbe-Grillet | STARS: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Marie-France Pisier, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Catherine Robbe-Grillet
RELEASE DATE:
2/11/14 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $34.95
BONUSES:
interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet, trailers for other Robbe-Grillet films
SPECS: NR | 94 min. | Foreign language thriller | 1:66 widescreen | French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

Oh, the life of a French intellectual. Subverting reality in novels and essays, thinking les grandes pensées and teaching writing, all while publicly proclaiming one’s kinks. Alain Robbe-Grillet was such an individual — an influential novelist turned filmmaker whose movies are artful and entertaining jigsaw puzzles that just happen to have a pretty sizable dose of bondage imagery.

His second film, Trans-Europ-Express (1967), is a playful, genre-bending take on crime thrillers. The central plotline is a standard-issue item about a mysterious man (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Le combat dans l’île) who becomes a drug smuggler but is distracted from his mission by a beautiful young woman (Marie-France Pisier, Celine and Julie Go Boating). We are led through the man’s narrative by Robbe-Grillet himself, who is seen sitting in a car on the Trans Europ Express with his fellow filmmakers dreaming up the proceedings.

Trans-Europ-Express movie scene

It's more than just black-and-white for Jean-Louis Trintignant and Marie-France Pisier in Trans-Europ-Express.

Robbe-Grillet’s novels and screenplays, the most famous of which is surely Last Year in Marienbad, are intentionally oblique and dreamlike. Thus the presence here of the filmmakers, people “in the real world,” commenting on the fictional action makes Trans-Europ one of his most accessible works.

In fact, the inclusion of Robbe-Grillet’s female colleague (played by his wife Catherine) — who serves as a kind of “script girl,” pointing out continuity errors and narrative impossibilities — makes the film not only an imaginative spoof of crime pics, but also a knowing satire of Robbe-Grillet’s own nouveau roman writing style, in which characters, events and locations morph into each other.

Amidst all of the intrigue, Robbe-Grillet inserts bondage imagery, with Pisier being tied up (an image that he dotes on) and Trintignant visiting a strip club where a chained performer does a “slave girl” number. In later years, Robbe-Grillet made the bondage images the centerpieces of his films, but at this early stage in his filmography, they are interspersed (one assumes) to spice things up. Or, more accurately, because Robbe-Grillet liked them.

This aspect of his work is tackled head on in a very jovial and enlightening interview with journalist Frédéric Taddeï included here as a supplement. In the interview, Robbe-Grillet discusses making the movie on a low budget over a two-week period. The atmosphere is so light that Taddeï asks the filmmaker what it was like filming his sexual fantasies, and whether he got aroused while doing it. Robbe-Grillet answers quite honestly, agreeing with Taddeï’s notion that the presence of the camera prevents filmmakers from getting excited at seeing their fantasies being acted out.

Trans-Europ has been released simultaneously by Kino Lorber’s Redemption label with R-G’s later Successive Slidings of Pleasure (1974), a more openly kinky picture that has far less plot and more surreal and erotic imagery. Redemption will be releasing four other titles in the “Cinema of Alain Robbe-Grillet” in the next few months, including his filmmaking debut L’Immortelle (1963).

 

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”