“Scents are like memories – the person evaporates but the memory remains”
A woman & two men carry a body into a musty crypt late one night. The figure, covered in a white cloth, is still breathing as it is placed into a coffin. Two more coffins lie alongside as the lids are securely fastened. As they leave, the men position a small crucifix upright by the doorway.
At a classy Parisian party, a man notices a strange picture of a remote ruined castle, which reminds him of something long forgotten from his childhood. He remembers spending the night in that castle in the company of a young girl, who he swore he loved. Desperate to recover this wisp of memory & imagination, he tries to discover where the castle is, but finds the photographer sworn to secrecy. He sees strange visions of the girl in the deserted streets of Paris, & pursues her through the night.
The films of Jean Rollin are it’s fair to say, something of an acquired taste. Lips of Blood is no exception to this, & is perhaps not the best starting point for those new to his work. However, those who have seen & enjoyed the likes of Fascination or The Living Dead Girl should make this essential viewing, for it is one of Rollin’s most hauntingly ethereal & potent films. Rollin forges in Lips of Blood a darkly gothic romantic fairytale in which a surreal mix of reality, dreams & memories combine to create an oddly fractured sense of dislocation. Like much of this director’s work, it’s a film which rewards those who can go with it’s dreamily elegant flow & not think too hard about logic or precise character details.
Rollin’s romantic sensibility (this is essentially a highly unconventional love story) applies to the material & produces some highly startling images, such as the scene in the cinema or appearance at the station. Characters are often dwarfed by their surroundings, whether they are huge fountains or grand modern day statues, & Rollin often keeps the characters small in the frame. There’s a quartet of nubile female vampires (two of whom are the Castel twins) who wander the streets wearing only see-through coloured cloaks, which whip around wildly in the wind, revealing absolutely everything. It’s not a particularly scary image, but it is oddly otherworldly & provokes the thought that if you’ve gotta go, there could be far worse ways. Also notable is Rollin’s portrait of Paris. More Don’t Look Now than Diva, this is a Paris of desolate nighttime cemeteries, of deserted boarded-up streets, where death & decay lurk around every corner.
At the centre of the story is the struggle between two dominant female influences. Our hero finds himself caught under the influence of his mother, who is simultaneously wanting to protect him, & also to not lose him to another woman – the vampiric young girl. Of course, in this instance you’d think she would be right to want to protect him from the denizen of evil, but this being a Rollin film it’s far more ambiguous than that. The relationship with the vampire is portrayed as being the most pure & natural thing in the film & the only way our hero can achieve true happiness, leading to one of the most brilliantly odd & yet utterly perfect endings to any film I can think of. Indeed, the interfering mother trying to keep love apart & prevent our hero from discovering his true self, even though she’s acting out of the best of intentions, is as close to a villain as the film gets.
With it’s slow, dreamy pace, & simple elegant score, Lips of Blood is certainly not a film for everyone. For every person who enjoys it, there are probably hundreds who would just find it to be a load of somnambulistic old arse. But you won’t know unless you try & watch it.
The UK DVD from Redemption is the first of their releases since the label’s recent re-launch, so a brief word about the packaging. The cover design is an improvement over previous Redemption styles (IMO), but I’m still not entirely convinced by the company’s constant decision to make their label far bigger & more prominent than the actual film title. Perhaps a reversible sleeve, with the film’s original artwork on the reverse may be a feasible solution.
The widescreen picture is sadly non-anamorphic, but other than that looks very good indeed, with good sharp detail, strong blacks & not too much print damage. The audio is mono French only (with English subs) & has a slight background hiss, but it’s not too intrusive & actually adds to the atmosphere in a weird way.
Perhaps inevitably, there’s little in the way of extras, just a selection of galleries of stills, publicity & video art, plus filmos. The sleeve states a trailer, but unless it’s an Easter Egg I can’t find, the only trailers are for “Sinful Nuns of St Valentine”, & “Bloodsucker Leads the Dance”. The extras are topped off with a kinky electroclash music video from the Salvation-owned music label Triple Silence, which is for “White Slaves” by “The Nuns”.