Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Europe Endless: Alain Robbe-Grillet's TRANS-EUROP-EXPRESS (1967)

Only available for years via dreadful quality bootlegs, the classic films of the legendary Alain Robbe-Grillet are finally getting ready to land on American shores on Blu-Ray and DVD courtesy of Redemption's new The Cinema of Alain Robbe-Grillet collection.  The first two releases in the series, Trans-Europ-Express (1967) and Successive Slidings of Pleasure (1974) come out in early February and both are nothing short of spectacular.  
It is fitting that Redemption's first Robbe-Grillet release is his groundbreaking Trans-Europ-Express, a miraculous work that stands as a perfect gateway into the French renegade's most distinctive cinematic world.  Alternately playful and subversive, Trans-Europ-Express is still an astonishingly forward thinking work detailing the complex, and often surprising, relationship between an author and his characters.  Starring New-Wave icons Jean-Louis Trintignant and Marie-France Pisier as two characters being constructed right before our very eyes by Robbe-Grillet and his wife Catherine (both appearing as themselves), Trans-Europ-Express perhaps feels even more adventurous today than it did in the more openly confrontational and experimental sixties. 
Like many of Robbe-Grillet's early literary works, Trans-Europ-Express manages to avoid the pretentious pitfalls of most deliberately self-reflexive post-modern works by maintaining a sharp wit throughout.  While Trans-Europ-Express is rightfully grouped among the most serious European Art Films of the sixties it is also one of the funniest and Robbe-Grillet's delightful willingness to play with pre-conceptions of character, story and the filmmaking process is incredibly refreshing.  It's among just a handful of films that makes you questions cinema's role while enhancing your enjoyment. 
Trans-Europ-Express was just the second film Robbe-Grillet had made as a director (with the 1963's mesmerizing The Immortal standing as the first) but he already had mastered the difficult task of translating many of the questions his novels posed into answers on the screen.  As a filmmaker, Robbe-Grillet's daring framing skills and his dazzling use of space were already apparent in Trans-Europ-Express and in cinematographer Willy Kurant he found the perfect artist to help bring his black and white world of eroticism and intrigue to life, although the two wouldn't work together again. 
A lot of the credit for how successful Trans-Europ-Express is as an incredibly entertaining film, and not just an odd experiment, has to go to Robbe-Grillet's incredible stars, Trintignant and Pisier, whom both dive into this uncompromising material with an absolute gleefulness.  Many actors would have shied away from some of the satirical self-poking that these two iconic stars are asked to perform in Trans-Europ-Express so it is to their credit, and the film's benefit, that they were so game. 
Redemption's Blu-ray of Trans-Europ-Express is a thing of beauty.  Mastered in HD from the original 35mm elements Kino and Redemption's team wisely didn't overly digitize this print and the silver grain necessary for its glorious black and white photography is still in place.  It's truly lovely to finally see this film looking and sounding like this.  Extras include a thirty minute chat with the much-missed Robbe-Grillet and a trailer reel.  Sadly, the Tim Lucas commentary tracks that grace the international releases are absent but, otherwise, this is an absolutely essential release in every way.  Pre-order it at Amazon

-Jeremy Richey, 2014-


dfordoom said...

Trans-Europ-Express is a great movie. I've only soon two of Robbe-Grillet's movies, the other being La Belle Captive (which I recommend very very highly).

Erich Kuersten said...

Damn I'm jealous you've already seen this--though if anyone should get an early peak at these new DVDs it's you, the champion of the 60s-70s Eurocine dream logic intellectual-erotic horror art film. Thanks for the heads up on this and so many others off the Redemption tip!