and Roses (French-Italian 1960, dir: Roger Vadim; dp: Claude
Renoir; cast: Mel Ferrer, Elsa Martinelli, Annette Vadim; aka Et Mourir
and surreal, Blood
and Roses may be the ultimate "horror-art film." Certainly, it's
the quintessential "romantic vampire film."
creatures go, the vampire comprises so many conflicting aspects (Satanist,
monster, victim, parasite, aristocrat, immortal), most films focus on only
some of the creature's traits. Blood
and Roses focuses on the romantic rather than monstrous. Romantic,
in a melodramatic, steamy, Harlequin romance sort of way. Yet in
a way that is also sensuous and classy.
features a young lesbian vampress who seduces her contemporaries. Blood
and Roses updates the story, then spans time periods. In the
film, the vampress's 18th century spirit (Mircalla) possesses a 20th century
woman (Carmilla Von Karnstein, played by Annette Vadim), then through her
body pursues the man they both love (her Von Karnstein cousin, played by
Mel Ferrer). Together, Mircalla/Carmilla seduce, drain of blood,
and kill Ferrer's finacée (Georgia, played by Elsa Martinelli),
hence a tepid lesbian scene.
by today's standards, although the scene was excised for the film's initial
US release. Nor is there much blood in Blood
and Roses. Deaths, when they occur, occur offscreen. Even
so, Carmilla's (offscreen) murder of a servant girl is emotionally horrific,
because we feel sympathy for both vampire and victim; all-too-rare in
horror films, where the vampire is usually either monster or sympathetic
is used artistically rather than gorily. Bright red blood soaks through
a bright white dress, but as it's only a dream, the horror is mitigated. Bright red blood also provides the sole color in a surreal black &
white dream sequence. (You know you're watching an art film when
some of it's in color, some in black & white).
and Roses is gracefully shot. Early on, as Carmilla relates her
ancestor's (Mircalla) history to assembled guests, a fluid POV shot ambiguously
suggests the presence of her spirit. Carmilla speculates about her
ancestral vampire's thoughts and feelings as the POV glides through the
room, her guests staring back into it. (Reminiscent of Last
Year at Marienbad.) The "entity" behind the POV may be the vampire's
spirit, or it may be the imaginings of the storyteller and her guests.
is much self-conscious artiness. Pining over her unrequited love
for her cousin, Carmilla wanders past fluted columns on his Italian estate,
Mircalla's regal 18th century white dress billowing about Carmilla. Resplendent fireworks intercut Carmilla's beautifully brooding wanderings,
punctuating her suppressed passions. Her dark heartsickness contrasts
with the colorfully costumed guests reveling at a masque ball -- honoring
Georgia's engagement to Von Karnstein. Carmilla must feign joy over
the very cause of her heartbreak.
brooding, heartbroken -- the Goth's ideal of the romantic vampire!
suicidal depression over Von Karnstein's impending marriage leaves her
easy prey for Mircalla's spirit, whose voiceovers guide Carmilla to her
tomb, where she possesses Carmilla's body. Some may regard the voiceover
device, especially atop the fireworks and perfume commercial mise-en-scene,
to be overmuch. Some do regard Mircalla's melodramatic monologues
to be bathetic.
Encyclopedia says: "Clearly intended as an art-house horror movie,
it aims for a dreamily languorous rhythm which never quite manages to overcome
the obstacles posed by stilted performances (Ferrer in particular), bathetic
dialogue, and direction too prosaic to achieve the necessary intensity."
I can see where Phil Hardy is coming from, Blood
and Roses works for me. Yes, I suppose some of the dialogue evokes
the adolescent poetics of a Meat Loaf CD. Von Karnstein's mask does
indeed resemble a Bat
Out of Hell. Yet I find the film to be poignant rather than bathetic,
and saw no problem with anyone's performance, Ferrer's included. But then, I like Meat Loaf's music. If Meat Loaf's aesthetic sensibility
resonates with you, chances are you'll like Blood
and Roses. That may sound an odd comparison, yet while the film
lacks Meat Loaf's aggressive, leather-clad biker machismo, it shares an
impassioned, operatic undercurrent.
is forever wandering about the estate in Mircalla's 18th century white
dress, proud and dignified (and resembling the siren in Meat Loaf's I'll
Do Anything for Love video, albeit more subdued). Behind Carmilla
are backdrops of crumbling castles and autumnal colors. And yet,
aside from their perfume commercial beauty, Vadim/Renoir's panoramic long
shots function aesthetically. By evoking an impressionistic painting,
the composition subsumes Carmilla into the old world of her aristocratic
usually disempower a character, the small character overwhelmed by her
surroundings. Yet in Blood
and Roses they achieve an opposite effect. Although Carmilla
is arguably disempowered (because she is possessed), her regal bearing
as Mircalla (in Carmilla's body) is empowered by the compositions. She walks past castles and columns and neatly aligned trees with confidence
and dignity, seemingly in command of her aristocratic surroundings.
hospital dream sequence, the black & white photography, like the impressionistic
composition, draws Carmilla back in time toward the vampress possessing
her. In The
Vampire Film, Silver & Ursini say of the black & white photography
(and masque ball): "These events propel the film backwards figuratively
into a dark age." That is, to Millarca's age.
black & white also heightens the dream's surrealism, and heightens
its horrors. Bright red blood appears that much starker. Robbed
of the warmth of colors, the nurses' mannequin-like movements appear coldly
robotic, unnatural, as impersonal and antiseptic as death.
If I seem
to spend overmuch time discussing the colors and composition and mise-en-scene,
well, this is an art film. Blood
and Roses is intended as a visual feast, rather than a suspenseful
story. (An aural feast too -- its classical soundtrack is passionate
and romantic). A film meant to be accepted and savored for its sights
and sounds and passions, rather than analyzed. In Dark
Romance, David J. Hogan writes: "Vadim sacrificed logic and narrative
at the altar of imagery.... Blood
and Roses is a predominantly visual exodus through some very subtle
and Roses won't convince you of its story if you have trouble suspending
disbelief. You'll either accept the film on its own terms, or you
and Roses seems little-known among horror film buffs, yet avid fans
of "vampire romances" will likely regard it as one of their favorites --
should they ever stumble across it. I'm no fan of "vampire romances,"
not especially, yet Blood
and Roses has long been one of my favorite horror films (say in the
is right. Blood
and Roses was "clearly intended as an art-house horror movie." And as such, it's one of the best.
Review copyright by Thomas
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