“Scents are like memories – the person evaporates but the memory remains”
A woman and 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 , and 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, , and pursues her through the night.
The films of Jean Rollin are something of an acquired taste. Lips of Blood is no exception to this, and is perhaps not the best starting point for those new to his work. However, those who have seen and 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 and potent films. Rollin forges in Lips of Blood a darkly gothic romantic fairytale in which a surreal mix of reality, dreams, and 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 its dreamily elegant flow, and 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, and 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, and 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 colored cloaks, which whip around wildly in the wind, revealing absolutely everything. It’s not a particularly scary image, but it is oddly otherworldly, and 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 and decay lurk around every corner.
At the center of the story is the struggle between two dominant female influences. Our hero finds himself caught under the influence of his mother, who simultaneously wants to protect him, and also 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 and natural thing in the film, and 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. The interfering mother, trying to keep lovers apart thus preventing our hero from discovering his true self, is as close to a villain as the film gets despite the fact that she’s acting out of the best of intentions.
The film comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Redemption USA by way of Kino Films. The 1.69:1 transfer very good indeed, with good sharp detail, strong blacks, and vibrant colors. Print damage is minimal, mostly limited to the credits sequences and an occasional scratch or flicker during the film, while a fine cinematic grain is present throughout. The audio is LPCM 2.0 audio track is in French only (with English subs), and has a slight background hiss, but it’s not too intrusive, and actually adds to the atmosphere in a weird way.
Perhaps inevitably, there’s little in the way of extras, but all are presented in 1080p. We get a brief introduction to the film from the late Rollin, a ten minute interview segment with frequent collaborator, Nancy Perrey, as well as trailers for all five films in the Jean Rollin Collection (Lips of Blood, Fascination, The Iron Rose, The Shiver of the Vampires, and The Nude Vampire). Also included is a 20 page booklet authored by Video Watchdog guru, Tim Lucas.
With its slow, dreamy pace and 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 and watch it.