Reviews & Commentary

Fascination (1979)

Jean Rollin
Jean Rollin
Franca Mai, Brigitte Lahaie, Jean-Marie Lemaire, Fanny Magier
Georgie Fromentin

This review contains spoilers.

According to exploitation legend, the story of Fascination started when Jean Rollin imagined two turn-of-the-century women dancing, and indeed that is the image that opens the film. The women are Elizabeth (Franca Mai) and Eva (Brigitte Lahaie), two of a circle of noblewomen, led by Hélène (Fanny Magier), who have developed a taste for human blood and lure unsuspecting men to their midnight ceremonies. Into their clutches wanders Marc (Jean-Marie Lemaire), a thief on the run from the partners he’s double-crossed. In short, it’s pretty much lesbian vampire story 1A.

Unlike a lot of exploitation from the period, Fascination actually has some semblance of a coherent plot, and some action other than just moving aimlessly between scenes of scantily clad women. Now, there are scenes of scantily clad women aplenty, but they are—not tasteful, exactly, but also not vulgar. Rollin can compose a shot, and is also helped by a decent feel for music cues, dominated by atmospheric orchestral music. “Atmospheric” is probably an adjective I overuse when discussing Rollin movies, but it remains apt: Rollin may have been a dirty old man, but his work doesn’t have the voyeurism of a Franco, and he preferred pretty set pieces to gore or vulgarity. There is often a strange sense of pacing to his films, pausing for long pans across inanimate objects or women’s bodies, but his films are almost always at least visually interesting, and Fascination is no exception.

Dialogue was never Rollin’s strong suit—or rather, he was fine when he had a nice pseudo-mystical monologue to work with, but you never wanted him working on exposition. This is proven once again by one of the very first lines of Fascination, when a doctor (Jacques Marbeuf) says, speaking of prescribing ox-blood, “Today, in April 1905, it is the best way to treat anaemia”. Subtle, it’s not. Most of the dialogue, once the exposition is out of the way, though, does its job just fine.

The same can be said for the actors, who are, as is par for Rollin, largely amateurish, but don’t bother me too much. Except perhaps Lemaire as Marc, who comes off as smarmy and arrogant. Of course, since he gets his comeuppance in the end, perhaps that was by design. Lahaie was one of Rollin’s favourites—I seem to recall an interview where he spoke of seeing her as “a living statue, a living painting”, and that’s very much how Rollin treats his actresses in Fascination: they don’t get much in the way of direction when it comes to things like emoting, but they are pretty set-dressing. Which is disturbing in its own right, but part of a larger discussion that’s beyond the scope of this review.

In a lot of ways, the film is a story of power and the illusion of control. All the characters believe they are in control, that they have the power, and they are all proven wrong. Marc most obviously, but the other characters, as well. Marc’s erstwhile partners think they have the upper hand when they capture Eva, but are proven wrong when she kills them. Eva herself is killed by Elizabeth, who in turn can’t control her blood lust and also kills Marc. And Marc’s arrogance leads him to believe he is in control right through the film, never seeing his inevitable demise coming. Even Hélène can’t stop the other women from feeding on Eva’s body. In the end: no one is in control.

Written by Kalle on Thursday May 5, 2011
Permalink - Category: Film - Tags: 1970s, jean-rollin, brigitte-lahaie, lesbian-vampire

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